Lengthy terms ordered in child molestation case

  • Bernard Shero

  • Charles Engelhardt

Two men con­victed of mo­lest­ing a boy from St. Jerome par­ish asked for mercy last week, but got none. Mercy was Judge El­len Ceisler’s to give, but she gave none.

In­stead, the Com­mon Pleas Court jur­ist handed down long pris­on terms to the Rev. Charles En­gel­hardt and former Cath­ol­ic school teach­er Bern­ard Shero, who were con­victed of mo­lest­ing the former al­tar boy in the late 1990s.

En­gel­hardt, 66, was sen­tenced to serve six to 12 years in pris­on. Shero, 50, got eight to 16 years. The former teach­er also re­ceived a con­sec­ut­ive sen­tence of 3 1/2 to 7 years for his en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of chil­dren con­vic­tion. Both men will have five years of re­port­ing pro­ba­tion after they com­plete their sen­tences. 

As those sen­tences were an­nounced, the sob­bing by En­gel­hardt’s and Shero’s friends and fam­ily was so un­con­trol­lable that some were asked to leave the courtroom. Those sup­port­ers who re­mained ap­peared pained. The fam­ily and friends of the vic­tim, who wore bright blue rib­bons, sat grimly in their seats.

Bur­ton Rose, Shero’s at­tor­ney, and Mi­chael McGov­ern, En­gel­hardt’s law­yer, told the court they in­tend to ap­peal their cli­ents’ con­vic­tions.

Be­fore Ceisler sen­tenced the men on June 12, their at­tor­neys asked the judge to grant their cli­ents new tri­als, say­ing the evid­ence against the men did not mer­it the con­vic­tions.

“The ver­dict of the jury is a mis­car­riage of justice,” Rose said. 

As they had dur­ing the tri­al, the law­yers ques­tioned the cred­ib­il­ity of the vic­tim, who they said has giv­en mul­tiple ver­sions of how he was at­tacked. They also poin­ted out that the vic­tim, now 24, has been in nu­mer­ous drug pro­grams and has a crim­in­al re­cord.

The vic­tim’s chan­ging story “shocks the con­science,” McGov­ern said.

“They just don’t like the ver­dict,” As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Evan­gelia Manos told the judge. “There is no new evid­ence in this case.”

The judge quickly brushed aside de­fense mo­tions, telling the de­fend­ants that the jur­ors in the three-week tri­al in Janu­ary had weighed the evid­ence. The ver­dict, she told them, was the jur­ors’ to make.

In a let­ter sent to Ceisler, the vic­tim asked her to give Shero and En­gel­hardt max­im­um sen­tences. His mo­lesta­tion, he said, spurred a life of drug ab­use and sev­er­al sui­cide at­tempts.

“My life and child­hood was des­troyed by these men,” he wrote.

Manos told the court that Shero and En­gel­hardt chose oc­cu­pa­tions that helped them cre­ate ap­pear­ances of re­spect­ab­il­ity that “helped mask their in­ner selves.”

Shero’s and En­gel­hardt’s kin and friends made emo­tion­al ap­peals for le­ni­ency for what they char­ac­ter­ized as un­just con­vic­tions. The de­fend­ants, who did not testi­fy dur­ing their tri­al, in tear-choked state­ments, both told the judge they were in­no­cent.

Shero said he was offered a deal if he pleaded guilty, but said he re­fused.

“I didn’t do it!” he said.

The Rev. James Green­field, En­gel­hardt’s Ob­late su­per­i­or, told the judge he had nev­er heard any­thing bad about the priest be­fore ac­cus­a­tions were made in 2009.

Green­field asked the judge to al­low En­gel­hardt to serve a pro­ba­tion­ary sen­tence in an Ob­late med­ic­al fa­cil­ity in Mary­land, but the judge sen­tenced the priest to pris­on. 

Shero’s moth­er, Bon­nie, said her son was bul­lied as a child be­cause he had poor eye­sight and had to wear thick glasses.

The judge also was re­minded of Shero’s and En­gel­hardt’s pre­vi­ously un­blem­ished crim­in­al re­cords.

Ceisler was not swayed and handed down sen­tences that were stiffer than the state sen­ten­cing guidelines.

“The range of guidelines does not ad­equately ad­dress the ser­i­ous­ness of these of­fenses,” the judge said.

The men were con­victed of crimes that oc­curred at St. Jerome par­ish in Holme Circle. Pro­sec­utors al­leged that En­gel­hardt mo­les­ted the 10-year-old al­tar boy in­side the church and that he sub­sequently told an­oth­er priest, Ed­ward Avery, about the boy and that he sexu­ally ab­used him, too. Fur­ther, pro­sec­utors charged Shero, a teach­er at the par­ish school, with mo­lest­ing the same boy dur­ing the fol­low­ing school year.

Avery, who pleaded guilty to mo­lesta­tion charges be­fore he was to be tried in 2012, denied he knew the vic­tim, re­ferred to as “Billy” when he test­i­fied at En­gel­hardt’s and Shero’s tri­al. 

When he ad­dressed Ceisler on June 12, En­gel­hardt said he did not know the vic­tim.

En­gel­hardt, an Ob­late of St. Fran­cis De­Sales, was ac­cused of as­sault­ing the boy after he caught him sip­ping leftover sac­ra­ment­al wine after a Mass at the church. Pro­sec­utors said Shero offered the boy a ride home in his car, and in­stead stopped at Pennypack Park and raped him in a park­ing lot. He then told the boy to walk home, ac­cord­ing to a grand jury re­port.

Shero had faced five counts, and jur­ors found him guilty of all. En­gel­hardt was found guilty on all counts ex­cept one. The jury was un­able to reach a ver­dict on the charge of in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course with a child.

En­gel­hardt was con­victed of en­dan­ger­ing wel­fare of chil­dren, cor­rup­tion of minors, in­de­cent as­sault of a per­son less than 13 years of age and con­spir­acy.

Shero was con­victed 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.

Dur­ing the sen­ten­cing hear­ing, Ceisler va­cated En­gel­hardt’s con­spir­acy con­vic­tion, say­ing the tri­al evid­ence “does not es­tab­lish a con­spir­acy.”

She agreed to re­com­mend that Shero and En­gel­hardt serve their sen­tences at the State Cor­rec­tion­al In­sti­tu­tion at Laurel High­lands in Somer­set, Pa. 

“This pris­on sen­tence sends a clear mes­sage to sexu­al as­sault vic­tims in Phil­adelphia,” Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams stated in a news re­lease. “If you come for­ward, you will be heard.” ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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