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.
“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.
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org