PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jurors in a groundbreaking clergy-abuse case appear to be struggling over the elements required to convict someone of conspiracy and child endangerment.
The jury has repeatedly asked for help with the law in the unusual case, the first to charge a U.S. church official with crimes over his handling of abuse complaints. The panel returns Friday for a ninth day of deliberations.
“If EWOC (endangering the welfare of children) is the result of a criminal conspiracy, did it have to be the intent of the criminal conspiracy?” the jury asked late Thursday. And if so, they asked, could “concealment” count as the required overt act? The judge said it could.
But the first question proved thorny. Lawyers argued strenuously over what Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina should tell the panel.
“I think this is the third or fourth time they asked this, in varying degrees. I think someone, or ‘someones,’ is hung up on this,” Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said.
Ultimately, Sarmina told jurors they would have to find the “object” of the alleged conspiracy was to endanger children — but the participants didn’t have to know their conduct was criminal.
The trial began March 26, and the jury of seven men and five women got the case June 1.
Speculation that they had perhaps finished deciding the guilt or innocence of one defendant was muted this week by questions involving both Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese, and the Rev. James Brennan, his co-defendant. Brennan, 48, is charged with the attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996.
Brennan admitted at his related 2008 church trial that he slept with the teen, wrestled with him, watched porn and discussed masturbation, but he denied any sexual contact.
Earlier Thursday, Sarmina declined to grant a mistrial in Brennan’s case.
His lawyer had complained that she let the jury this week hear the accuser’s testimony from the church trial. The testimony had not been read in court during the three-month criminal trial. But Sarmina granted the jury’s request because a transcript of the church trial was in evidence.
Sarmina, though, denied the jury’s bid to re-hear several days of testimony from key witnesses, including that of Brennan’s accuser in early April.
“You are going to have to rely on your memory,” Sarmina said.
The jury has asked to revisit most of the evidence involving the two accusers: Brennan’s alleged victim and a man who was sexually assaulted by defrocked priest Edward Avery in 1999. Avery pleaded guilty to the charge before trial.
Lynn is accused of endangering both of those young men, and of conspiring with others to do so.
Jurors heard about 40 days of trial evidence, but only four days were spent on the crimes charged, according to Lynn’s lawyers. Most of the testimony involved Lynn’s handling of abuse complaints involving 20 other priests who were never charged with crimes.
More than a dozen adults, including a former seminarian and a nun, gave harrowing accounts of the abuse they said they suffered at the hands of priests. Sarmina permitted the testimony to suggest Lynn’s pattern of behavior.
Prosecutors argued that he gave diagnosed pedophiles and other accused priests access to scores of new victims by keeping them in ministry.
Lynn, who spent three days on the stand, said that only the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua had the power to assign or remove priests at the Philadelphia archdiocese.
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