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 firstname.lastname@example.org