Lynn’s child endangerment conviction appealed

Wil­li­am Lynn’s at­tor­ney, Thomas Bergstrom, in front of the court­house after the judge de­cides not to let Lynn out on bail un­til his sen­tence, Tues­day, June 26, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

“We’ll have a real fight on our hands,” Thomas Bergstrom said last week. “And I think we’re go­ing to win it.”

That fight is the ap­peal of Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn’s 2012 child en­dan­ger­ment con­vic­tion. Bergstrom, Lynn’s at­tor­ney, yes­ter­day filed a brief with Pennsylvania Su­per­i­or Court spelling out why he be­lieves his cli­ent’s con­vic­tion should be over­turned.

In June 2012, Lynn be­came the first mem­ber of Amer­ica’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic hier­archy to be con­victed in a child mo­lesta­tion case. Lynn was found guilty of one count of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren. He was found in­no­cent of a second count of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren and of a con­spir­acy charge. He was im­me­di­ately taken in­to cus­tody and has re­mained in­car­cer­ated ever since.

The monsignor, who had in­vest­ig­ated sexu­al mis­con­duct al­leg­a­tions against arch­dioces­an priests, nev­er was ac­cused of touch­ing a child. 

However, a Phil­adelphia grand jury that looked in­to sexu­al ab­use by priests said Lynn, who had served as the arch­diocese’s sec­ret­ary for clergy, had shiel­ded priests.  Grand jur­ors said Lynn had al­lowed mo­lesters to con­tin­ue in their min­is­tries, which in­cluded con­tact with chil­dren, and should be held ac­count­able for the ac­tions of two priests they said ab­used minors. 

Be­fore, dur­ing and after Lynn’s three-month tri­al in 2012, Bergstrom main­tained the monsignor didn’t have the fi­nal say in as­sign­ing priests and couldn’t be blamed for what they did.

“It doesn’t make any sense. It nev­er made any sense,” Bergstrom said after Lynn was found guilty of one count of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren. The monsignor is serving a three- to six-year state pris­on sen­tence.

The monsignor was ar­res­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2011 along with two oth­er priests, an ex-priest and a former Cath­ol­ic school teach­er. Lynn was charged with two counts of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren. The oth­ers were charged with child mo­lesta­tion and re­lated of­fenses. Con­spir­acy charges later were lodged against all de­fend­ants. 

The brief Bergstrom filed yes­ter­day at­tacks Lynn’s con­vic­tion with three main points, he said.

The state’s child en­dan­ger­ment stat­ute doesn’t ap­ply to the monsignor be­cause he nev­er dir­ectly su­per­vised chil­dren. It, there­fore, was an er­ror to al­low him to be tried on that charge.

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina erred in al­low­ing 21 oth­er cler­ic­al sexu­al mis­con­duct cases that dated to the 1940s to be in­tro­duced dur­ing the tri­al. “None were acts of Lynn,” the at­tor­ney said. The monsignor served as sec­ret­ary for clergy un­der Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua from 1992 to 2004. Present­ing those cases made it dif­fi­cult for Lynn to get a fair tri­al.

Sarmina also erred in the in­form­a­tion about the state’s child en­dan­ger­ment law that she gave to jur­ors be­fore they began their de­lib­er­a­tions.  Lynn was nev­er a su­per­visor of chil­dren.

If the ap­peals court finds any of these points are val­id, Bergstrom said, Lynn’s con­vic­tion would be over­turned.

In his brief Bergstrom brings up oth­er is­sues that he said could res­ult in a new tri­al if Su­per­i­or Court agrees Lynn’s case was un­fairly af­fected.

For ex­ample, Bergstrom said, he and oth­er mem­bers of Lynn’s de­fense team de­cided that they didn’t want to cross-ex­am­ine a wit­ness who test­i­fied he had been mo­les­ted by a priest Lynn had in­vest­ig­ated. They made that de­cision be­cause Judge Sarmina ruled a cross-ex­am­in­a­tion could al­low testi­mony of that cler­ic’s guilty plea, which Lynn’s at­tor­neys thought would be dam­aging to him. 

Ed­ward Avery, now de­frocked, had been sta­tioned at St. Jerome par­ish in the North­east where he al­legedly mo­les­ted a 10-year-old al­tar boy in the late 1990s. Pre­vi­ously, Lynn had in­vest­ig­ated sexu­al ab­use com­plaints against Avery and had re­com­men­ded ther­apy as well as re­as­sign­ments. Lynn said he didn’t or­der Avery placed in the par­ish. It was Car­din­al Bevilac­qua, Lynn had test­i­fied, who made the de­cision to place Avery’s res­id­ence at St. Jerome.

Avery was due to go on tri­al in March 2012 along with Lynn and the Rev. James Bren­nan, who had been ac­cused of the 1990s mo­lesta­tion of a Bucks County teen­age boy. Avery pleaded guilty to mo­lesta­tion charges be­fore the tri­al began. In plead­ing guilty, Avery did not name a vic­tim. 

“We did not want all that oth­er stuff to come in,” Bergstrom said last week, and said he felt Sarmina “held a gun to our head.”

Lynn’s co-de­fend­ant, Bren­nan, however, went home after ver­dicts were read on June 22, 2012, be­cause jur­ors could not reach ver­dicts on the at­temp­ted rape and con­spir­acy charges he faced. He is due for re­tri­al in Oc­to­ber. 

Pro­sec­utors have un­til May to file their Su­per­i­or Court brief, Bergstrom said, adding he ex­pec­ted to ar­gue the case be­fore the court by late sum­mer or early fall.

Since Lynn’s con­vic­tion, two of the oth­er men ar­res­ted with him in Feb­ru­ary 2011 have been tried and found guilty of sexu­ally ab­us­ing the same St. Jerome al­tar boy Avery was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing.

Avery was a pro­sec­u­tion wit­ness dur­ing the Janu­ary tri­al of the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former St. Jerome teach­er Bern­ard Shero. Al­though he pleaded guilty to mo­lesta­tion charges be­fore Lynn and Bren­nan’s tri­al began last year, he main­tained he nev­er had con­tact with the vic­tim who test­i­fied dur­ing both tri­als.

Shero and En­gel­hardt are sched­uled to be sen­tenced on Thursday, April 18.

Bergstrom, who vis­ited his cli­ent April 8, said Lynn is work­ing in the lib­rary at Way­mart state pris­on in Wayne County, Pa.

“He’s safe. He’s not be­ing hassled,” the at­tor­ney said. ••

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