At trial, convicted priest says he didn't do it
A former priest who last year pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a young Northeast boy denied on Thursday he had ever touched the child.
Testifying in the trial of two men accused of molesting the same boy, Edward Avery, 70, told jurors he had not indecently assaulted a 10-year-old St. Jerome parish altar boy. He also said he had only a slight acquaintance with Charles Engelhardt, a priest the victim said had molested him first and that he didn’t know Bernard Shero, 49, a former parish school teacher who also is charged with assaulting the boy.
Looking frail in prison clothing, Avery said he pleaded guilty in March 2012 to charges he had molested the boy in spring 1999 because he believed it was the best way to avoid a long incarceration.
“I didn’t want to die in prison,” he said.
Avery was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison. He said he has been incarcerated for about 10 months.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Avery’s alleged victim, 24, testified in detail that the former priest had molested him twice after Engelhardt, now 66, had done so once during the same school year. He said he was sexually assaulted once by Shero, his sixth-grade homeroom teacher, in 2000.
The sexual abuse, he said, changed him. A recovering heroin addict, the man said his life has been filled with drug use, drug rehabilitation attempts and arrests.
Before Avery denied he had assaulted the boy, he answered several questions from Assistant District Attorney Mark Cippoletti about his guilty plea, agreeing that he did plead guilty before Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina just days before he was to go on trial with Monsignor William Lynn and the Rev. James Brennan.
The alleged victim had testified last year during Brennan’s and Lynn’s trial. Jurors couldn’t reach verdicts on charges Brennan had sexually assaulted a Bucks County teen. However, they found Lynn, who had served 12 years as the archdiocese’s secretary of clergy, guilty of endangering children because he had investigated allegations against Avery, knew he was a molester and had kept him in ministry, thereby putting children at risk. Lynn is serving a prison term of three to six years but is appealing his conviction.
In testimony earlier Thursday, Andrew Snyder, a Philadelphia police detective, told jurors how hearing a thump coming from Shero’s Bristol apartment worried him on the day in February 2011 he had gone there to arrest him.
It sounded like a body, he said.
It took some time, but he and other officers eventually got into the apartment and found a woozy Shero. They got him to a hospital. The detective said Shero had told him he had taken sleeping pills. Snyder said he also found a “suicide letter” from Shero to his parents in the man’s apartment.
Snyder read the letter in court. In it, Shero apologizes to his parents for the humiliation that had endured because of the allegations against him. Nowhere in the letter read in court Thursday did Shero admit to molesting the victim. ••
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