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 firstname.lastname@example.org