The case against a former St. Jerome school teacher rests on the believability of a former Northeast man who testified Bernard Shero molested him in the late 1990s, a defense lawyer told jurors this morning.
And that witness shouldn’t be believed, Shero’s attorney, Burton Rose, told jurors in his closing statement.
“It never happened,” he said.
Rose said his client’s accuser is suing Shero and using is using his allegations to explain away 10 years of drug abuse and trouble with the law. Besides that, Rose said, the alleged victim has given more than two versions of his account of how he was molested by Shero in the spring of 2000 when he was 11 as well as different versions of alleged assaults by the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former priest Edward Avery when he was 10.
“This is an opportunity play,” Rose said, by a young man who’s “been around and knows how to game the system.”
His client, who has eye problems and is socially awkward, Rose said, “is the perfect target” for molestation allegations.
Shero this morning listened intently to his lawyer’s closing arguments, dabbing at his eyes with his handkerchief as Rose read aloud the note the ex-teacher had written to his parents when he attempted suicide before his February 2011 arrest.
Closing statements will be given on Friday by Engelhardt’s attorney, Michael McGovern, and by the prosecution. Avery, who pleaded guilty last year to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child and endangering children, denied on the stand last week that he had ever touched the boy who accused Shero and Engelhardt.
The witness against the men had said Engelhardt, an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales, had molested him after a Mass at St. Jerome’s parish in the Northeast during the 1998-99 school year. The witness said Engelhardt had referred his encounters with the boy as “sessions.”
Later that school year, the witness said, Avery had sexually abused him on two occasions after telling the boy he had heard about his “sessions” with Engelhardt. In spring of the next year, the witness said, Shero offered him a ride home, but instead took him to a Pennypack Park parking lot and sexually assaulted him.
“Why didn’t he run?” Rose asked jurors. According to his testimony, Rose said, the boy had been assaulted at least twice before.
“Because it never happened,” Rose said. “There is no physical evidence that it ever happened.”
Rose reminded jurors that Shero had pleaded not guilty to the charges. Not guilty is what the jury should decide, he said.
Engelhardt and Shero chose not to testify in their own defense. Over the last day or so, defense attorneys relied on a series of character witnesses, many of whom were relatives. After the defense rested this morning, the prosecution called one more witness, a rebuttal character witness, and then both sides rested.
While on the witness stand Jan. 15 and 16, the alleged victim, who currently lives in Florida, said a lifetime of drug abuse began after the alleged molestations, and that the first time he used drugs was when his older brother, now an attorney, took him to a party at which he smoked marijuana. The man, now 24, said he was 11 at the time.
The alleged victim’s mother, who is a nurse, and father, who is a Philadelphia police sergeant, testified for the prosecution during the first week of the trial, which is now in its second week.
Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler told jurors this morning that she will give them instructions on Friday. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org