Northeast Times

Nine days, 25 questions, but still no verdict

Last week, the jury in the priest sex ab­use tri­al couldn't come to a ver­dict.

Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynnleaves the court­house on Tues­day, June 12, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

After nine days of de­lib­er­a­tion, the jury in the priest sex ab­use tri­al con­tin­ued on Fri­day to struggle to de­liv­er a ver­dict in the high-pro­file case.

The sev­en men and five wo­men on the pan­el were con­sid­er­ing the evid­ence presen­ted in an 11-week crim­in­al tri­al for Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn, who is ac­cused of one count of con­spir­acy and two counts of en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of chil­dren, and the Rev. James Bren­nan, who is ac­cused of one count of at­temp­ted rape of a sub­urb­an teen­age boy and one count of en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of a child.

Lynn, 61, who served as sec­ret­ary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, is the first church ad­min­is­trat­or to stand tri­al in the sex ab­use scan­dal that has rocked the Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church in Amer­ica. The case also has deep sig­ni­fic­ance for St. Jerome par­ish and school in North­east Phil­adelphia be­cause sus­pec­ted pred­at­or priests Lynn as­signed there were men­tioned prom­in­ently in a 2011 grand jury re­port.

Though the jury’s talks re­mained secret, as the week wore on tem­pers flared in the open courtroom where pro­sec­utors and de­fense law­yers dueled. One de­fense law­yer moved for a mis­tri­al, and it was im­me­di­ately denied by Judge M. Teresa Sarmina.

On Thursday, after eight days of de­lib­er­a­tion and 24 ques­tions from the jury, an ar­gu­ment erup­ted over wheth­er the es­sence of con­spir­acy re­quires the in­tent to break the law.

After a dis­cus­sion between lead pro­sec­utor Patrick Bless­ing­ton and de­fense at­tor­neys, Sarmina told the jury that the law does not re­quire someone to in­tend to break the law, just so long as his or her acts res­ul­ted in an il­leg­al ac­tion.

After the jury left the courtroom to re­sume de­lib­er­a­tions Thomas Bergstrom, a de­fense at­tor­ney for Lynn, rose to ar­gue again to Sarmina that he thought a con­spir­acy charge re­quired someone to in­ten­tion­ally break the law.

Bless­ing­ton rose, and in­ter­rupt­ing Bergstrom, raised his voice and told Bergstrom, “Enough. Sit down.”

Bless­ing­ton told the judge, “His man­ners, I’ve seen bet­ter man­ners in a barn­yard. That’s a fact.”

“He is try­ing to change the law.

“He is try­ing to change what the judge said 20 seconds ago.

“He is wrong on the law. Make him shut up.”

When court re­sumed on Fri­day, Sarmina called in the jury and cla­ri­fied her in­struc­tions to them.

   She said that on the charges of en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of chil­dren, that for a guilty ver­dict the jury would have to find that the de­fend­ants knew that they would be pla­cing chil­dren at risk of harm.

On the con­spir­acy charge, Lynn and a former priest, Ed­ward Avery, would have to have in­ten­ded to pro­mote or fa­cil­it­ate the com­mit­ting of a crime that en­dangered the wel­fare of chil­dren. Avery was ori­gin­ally sched­uled to stand tri­al with Lynn and Bren­nan, but shortly be­fore the tri­al began, Avery pleaded guilty to mo­lest­ing a 10-year-old al­tar boy at St. Jerome’s par­ish in the 1990s and was sen­tenced to two and a half to five years in pris­on.

   Earli­er on Thursday, de­fense at­tor­ney Wil­li­am Bren­nan, who rep­res­ents James Bren­nan, moved for a mis­tri­al. He cited Sarmina’s de­cision on Tues­day to al­low jur­ors to be read testi­mony from an al­leged vic­tim of James Bren­nan that had been part of the re­cord of a 2008 ca­non­ic­al tri­al.

At the time Sarmina was con­sid­er­ing the jury’s re­quest, Bren­nan told the judge he was “flab­ber­gas­ted” that she would al­low the jury to hear for the first testi­mony that had nev­er been part of the crim­in­al tri­al.

“I am ab­so­lutely flab­ber­gas­ted that the court is go­ing to con­sider giv­ing them this doc­u­ment,” he told her on Tues­day.

The jury took the day off on Wed­nes­day, and Bren­nan’s open­ing shot on Thursday morn­ing was to move for the mis­tri­al, based on Sarmina’s de­cision to al­low the jury to hear the ca­non­ic­al tran­script.

Sarmina denied Bren­nan’s mo­tion, say­ing that a mo­tion for a mis­tri­al must be made im­me­di­ately. She reasoned that the ar­gu­ment over the ca­non­ic­al testi­mony came on Tues­day, and thus Bren­nan’s mo­tion was not timely.

Bren­nan countered that in “court time,” it had only been a mat­ter of three hours, from Tues­day af­ter­noon un­til Thursday morn­ing.

Sarmina lashed out at Bren­nan, telling him, “For you to now take this little ar­rog­ant at­ti­tude is not really help­ful.”

A few minutes later, the jury, which had asked for three more ex­tens­ive read­ings of earli­er testi­mony, was led back in­to the courtroom from the ad­ja­cent de­lib­er­a­tion room.

Sarmina told jur­ors she would not grant their re­quest for com­plete read­ings of testi­mony by three wit­nesses, but that if they felt they needed spe­cif­ic is­sues cla­ri­fied, she would be open to that.

She told the jur­ors, “You are go­ing to have to rely on your memor­ies.”

Dave Warner is the Phil­adelphia cor­res­pond­ent for Re­u­ters. He can be reached at 267-577-2127 or ed­i­t­ex­press@ve­r­i­zon.net

You can reach at dwarner@bsmphilly.com.

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