‘Dynamite charge’ for jurors in clergy sex-abuse case
Lawyers call a judge’s speech to a deadlocked jury a “dynamite charge,” the workingman’s nickname for a bid to blast through an impasse.
On Wednesday, the 12th day of jury deliberations in the 13th week of the child-endangerment and sex-abuse trial of two Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests, the dynamite sticks came out. It just wasn’t clear who might get hurt.
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina’s directive could dislodge a verdict in the landmark trial of a Catholic Church supervisor. Or it could implode a case a decade in the making.
“If I was the one of the prosecutors, I would be worried right now,” said defense lawyer Will Spade, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney who worked on the first investigation into alleged clergy sex abuse by area priests.
The jury of seven men and five women said it had reached a consensus on only one of the five counts against Msgr. William J. Lynn and the Rev. James J. Brennan. It did not identify which charge or defendant.
After being granted Thursday off so a juror could attend to a family matter, the panel is scheduled to regroup Friday morning. Already, its deliberations have outlasted any high-profile case in Common Pleas Court in decades. Each day increases the odds of an outcome that satisfies no one.
Advocates for clergy sex-abuse victims were seizing on the positive – that at least some jurors saw sufficient evidence to convict Lynn and Brennan – but also steeling themselves for the worst.
“Frankly, a hung jury on the majority of the charges is far better than a jury that acquits. If there have to be two trials, that’s fine,” said Marci Hamilton, a victims’ advocate and lawyer who has frequented the trial and who represents accusers suing the archdiocese. “Looking at it from the side of survivors, an acquittal would be devastating.”
Brennan, 48, is accused of child endangerment and attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996. The rape allegation is a routine sex-crime charge, the type that jurors hear and decide each week in courtrooms from Philadelphia to, say, Bellefonte.
Under state law, such cases can rise and fall solely on the believability of alleged victims. In this trial, Brennan’s accuser spent nearly two days on the witness stand, insisting that the priest had tried to sexually assault him in 1996 and facing a withering cross-examination from a defense lawyer who called him a liar. [More]