Northeast Times

Jury ends deliberations for the day in sex abuse case

Jur­ors de­lib­er­ated for a brief time this af­ter­noon in the tri­al of a priest and an ex-Cath­ol­ic school teach­er charged with mo­lest­ing the same North­east Phil­adelphia school­boy in the late 1990s.

Judge El­len Ceisler gave her in­struc­tions to the jury early this af­ter­noon, and then jur­ors left to be­gin their dis­cus­sions. Late this af­ter­noon, the jury ended their talks for the day and will re­sume on Monday.

Earli­er today, Mi­chael McGov­ern, a law­yer for the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt, told jur­ors and a packed courtroom this morn­ing that the ac­cuser in this case was “a walk­ing, talk­ing per­son­i­fic­a­tion of reas­on­able doubt.”

In his 55-minute sum­ma­tion in Com­mon Pleas Court, McGov­ern seemed to strike a chord with the jury when he al­luded to look­ing out at a lake on a winter day and won­der­ing if the ice was sol­id enough for a man to walk across. If the ac­cuser had said the ice was safe, the de­fense law­yer asked the jury, would you “take a walk on that ice?”

En­gel­hardt has pleaded not guilty to charges of in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course with a child, en­dan­ger­ing wel­fare of chil­dren, cor­rup­tion of minors, in­de­cent as­sault of a per­son less than 13 years of age and con­spir­acy.

A second de­fend­ant, former teach­er Bern­ard Shero, has pleaded not guilty to charges of rape of a child, in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course with a child, en­dan­ger­ing wel­fare of chil­dren, cor­rup­tion of minors and in­de­cent as­sault of a per­son less than 13 years of age.

Neither man test­i­fied in his own de­fense dur­ing the nine-day tri­al.

In his clos­ing state­ment, As­sist­ant Pro­sec­utor Mark Cip­po­letti countered that the evid­ence showed En­gel­hardt had plenty of time to mo­lest the boy in the sac­risty of St. Jerome’s Church. He also al­luded a sui­cide note that Shero had writ­ten.

ldquo;You can’t dance between the rain­drops be­fore you end up soak­ing wet. The two de­fend­ants sit there soak­ing wet,” the pro­sec­utor told the jury.

On Thursday, Shero’s at­tor­ney, Bur­ton Rose, told jur­ors the case against Shero is based on the testi­mony of his al­leged vic­tim who is now 24. That testi­mony is just not to be be­lieved be­cause the wit­ness is su­ing Shero, has ab­used drugs for 10 years and has changed his story sev­er­al times.

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.

Rose said jur­ors should find his cli­ent not guilty of mo­lest­ing that wit­ness when he was 11 years old be­cause “it nev­er happened.”

De­fense law­yers have main­tained that the al­leged vic­tim has giv­en more than two ver­sions of his ac­counts of sexu­al ab­use at the hands of En­gel­hardt, ex-priest Ed­ward Avery and then Shero.

Rose said Thursday that his cli­ent, who has eye prob­lems and is so­cially awk­ward “is the per­fect tar­get” for mo­lesta­tion al­leg­a­tions.

The wit­ness against the men had test­i­fied En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, had mo­les­ted him after a Mass at St. Jerome’s par­ish 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.

Avery, called to the stand by the pro­sec­u­tion, denied he had ever touched the boy. He said he pleaded guilty to charges of in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course with a child and en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren be­cause he felt he faced a long term be­hind bars if con­victed at tri­al.

“I didn’t want to die in pris­on,” he told the court on Jan. 17.

On Wed­nes­day and Thursday, de­fense at­tor­neys called to the stand a series of char­ac­ter wit­nesses, many of whom were the de­fend­ants’ re­l­at­ives. After the de­fense res­ted Thursday, the pro­sec­u­tion called one more wit­ness, a re­but­tal char­ac­ter wit­ness, and then both sides res­ted.

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Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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