Northeast Times

Jury mulls fate of pair in priest sex case

— The jury asked the judge to see tran­scripts of tri­al and grand jury testi­mon­ies, but she denied the re­quests.

Jur­ors on Tues­day con­tin­ued to de­bate the evid­ence in the tri­al for a priest and a former Cath­ol­ic school teach­er who stand ac­cused of sexu­ally ab­us­ing the same North­east Phil­adelphia al­tar boy more than a dec­ade ago.

The jur­ors began their de­lib­er­a­tions on Fri­day af­ter­noon after get­ting in­struc­tions from Com­mon Pleas Court Judge El­len Ceisler in the case against the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt, 66, and Bern­ard Shero, 49. 

En­gel­hardt is ac­cused of mo­lest­ing the 10-year-old boy after he caught him sip­ping leftover sac­ra­ment­al wine after a Mass at St. Jerome’s Church. Shero, a grade school teach­er, is al­leged to have offered the boy a ride home in his car, and in­stead stopped at Pennypack Park and raped him in a park­ing lot. The in­cid­ents are al­leged to have oc­curred in the late 1990s, when the boy was a pu­pil at the par­ish grade school.

On Monday, the jur­ors sent a ques­tion to the judge ask­ing why a wit­ness, the broth­er of the man who has ac­cused the pair of mo­lest­ing him and was called by the de­fense, failed to ap­pear in court. The judge re­spon­ded that there was no evid­ence that the wit­ness had re­ceived a sub­poena.

On Tues­day, the jury asked for a tran­script of the testi­mony po­lice De­tect­ive An­drew Snyder gave dur­ing the tri­al, and a tran­script of the same of­ficer’s testi­mony be­fore a grand jury that in­vest­ig­ated the case.

The jury also asked Ceisler for tran­scripts of the po­lice de­tect­ive’s tri­al testi­mony about his in­ter­view of the al­leged vic­tim con­cern­ing the at­tack at the park, and for the ac­cuser’s testi­mony about the same al­leged at­tack.

The judge denied all the re­quests, telling the jur­ors that they had to rely on their re­col­lec­tions of the testi­mony and the notes they had been al­lowed to take dur­ing tri­al.

En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, 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. 

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.

Pro­sec­utors and de­fense at­tor­neys presen­ted sev­er­al wit­nesses over the course of nine days of tri­al. The jur­ors’ de­cision al­most cer­tainly will boil down to their as­sess­ments of two key wit­nesses:

ν The man, now 24. who said En­gel­hardt and Shero mo­les­ted him when he was a 10- and 11-year-old pu­pil and al­tar boy at St. Jerome’s par­ish school in the North­east.

ν  A 70-year-old im­prisoned ex-priest, Ed­ward Avery, who pleaded guilty last year to mo­lesta­tion charges, but test­i­fied on the stand Jan. 17 that he had nev­er had any con­tact with the man who also ac­cused En­gel­hardt and Shero. Avery was ac­cused of ab­us­ing the boy after En­gel­hardt and be­fore Shero. Last March, days be­fore his own tri­al was to be­gin, Avery pleaded guilty to charges of in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course with a child and en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren. The de­frocked priest test­i­fied he entered that plea be­cause he felt he faced a long term be­hind bars if con­victed at tri­al. 

In their clos­ing state­ments last week, de­fense at­tor­neys Bur­ton Rose and Mi­chael McGov­ern at­tacked the worth of the ac­cuser’s testi­mony, point­ing to his dec­ade of drug ab­use and trouble with the law. They also ques­tioned why he waited un­til 2009 to re­port sexu­al ab­use he said oc­curred in 1999 and 2000, adding he has giv­en more than two ver­sions of what he said happened to him.

Fur­ther, de­fense at­tor­neys said the al­leged vic­tim’s mo­tiv­a­tion is that he is su­ing the de­fend­ants and Phil­adelphia’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Arch­diocese.

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 mo­lesta­tions. ••

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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