Jury hung on most charges in priest abuse case

June 20, 2012 11:31:22 AM PDT
A jury in a groundbreaking clergy-abuse trial involving a high-ranking Roman Catholic official resumed deliberations Wednesday after announcing they were hung up on four of the five charges.

Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina instructed the jurors to keep trying and offered to let them rehear portions of testimony from two accusers if it would help them reach consensus. The jury, deliberating Wednesday for a 12th day, had asked for that evidence last week.

The judge's offer led lawyer William Brennan to move for a mistrial on behalf of his client, the Rev. James Brennan. The lawyer argued that she was pointing them to a portion of the case.

"You've in effect made yourself a 13th juror," argued Brennan, who is not related to his client.

Sarmina countered that they had previously asked for the help, and denied his motion.

Monsignor William Lynn is the first U.S. church official charged with crimes for his handling of clergy-abuse complaints.

Lynn, 61, served as secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese from 1992 to 2004.

He is charged with conspiracy and two counts of child endangerment for allegedly helping the Roman Catholic church cover up abuse complaints. He faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted.

James Brennan, 48, is charged with attempted rape and child endangerment for his alleged abuse of a 14-year-old boy during an overnight stay at the priest's apartment in 1996.

Another priest, the Rev. Edward Avery, pleaded guilty to sexual assault before trial and is in prison. Lynn is charged with endangering Avery's victim and Brennan's accuser.

Sarmina acknowledged Wednesday that it could take days to rehear the testimony from those two young men, but she said that might be better than the alternative.

She reminded the jury that the case may have to be retried if they deadlock and told them to make one last attempt to return a verdict. She asked them to deliberate with open minds but also said they should not surrender their individual opinion to reach an agreement.

The jury note sent to the judge Wednesday morning suggested the split was 10-2 on one charge, but it was unclear what the vote was on other counts or which charge they had reached a verdict on.

Seven men and five women are on the jury. They include a federal court clerk, a gospel singer and a graduate student.

Lynn testified for three days, telling jurors he did what he could to remove accused predators from ministry and get them into treatment.

In 1994, Lynn created a list of 35 accused priests, based on complaints kept in secret, locked files at the Philadelphia archdiocese.

He said he gave the list to his superiors in hopes that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua would address the problem. Three were diagnosed as pedophiles, and a dozen others were deemed by Lynn "guilty" of the complaint, mostly because they had admitted it. Avery topped the "guilty" list.

The list went missing at the archdiocese for more than a decade. Lynn told a grand jury about it in 2002, but said he could not find it.

A signed memo that surfaced only this year - days after Bevilacqua died in January - shows that Bevilacqua had the list shredded. The memo and a surviving copy of the list were turned over to prosecutors in February, and shown to the jury.

Whatever the verdict, advocates for clergy-abuse victims consider the trial groundbreaking because of the evidence brought to light.

"No matter how this trial is ultimately resolved, the facts it revealed stand as a detailed and devastating indictment of the Philadelphia archdiocese. The transcript and exhibits of this trial are the most important record yet produced of an institution's failure to prevent the sexual abuse of children," said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks clergy-abuse cases.

"This is a record of historic importance that will ultimately help the Catholic church and society at large to deal with a terrible and enduring problem."

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