Kane rushes to the scene. A teary friend delivers the news: The beloved pastor, the Rev. William Gulas, is dead. They found his body in a first-floor office.
But the century-old church wasn't damaged. And Daniel Montgomery, the friar from Philadelphia they call Brother Dan, escaped unharmed. He's the one who called 911.
Kane scans the crowd and finds Montgomery. He hugs the 37-year-old friar, glad he's safe. Montgomery's response is stiff, stilted. As usual.
That's Brother Dan, Kane thinks. Pious, but strange.
In the five months since Montgomery moved into the rectory, Kane, 44, has stopped trying to befriend him. He knows little about him, other than that he has been a Franciscan for several years and splits his time volunteering at the city social-services agency and the parish school.
And that he's quirky.
On countless mornings, Kane has looked up from his desk to see Montgomery, in his brown robe and sandals, trudging from the rectory to the school with a little metal lunch box.
Once, Montgomery came into his office and showed the business manager a bunch of crude, homemade rap songs he planned to share with the students. Inside, Kane cringed. He's trying too hard.
Neither man had discussed what both knew: Montgomery was leaving the parish. The Franciscans had concluded he was a bad fit at St. Stan's and were transferring him.
Kane doesn't mention it now, as the two men stand outside the smoldering rectory.
After removing Gulas' body, arson investigators escort Kane into the pastor's office and ask if anything looks amiss. The ornate, wood-paneled walls are charred; debris litters the floor.
Two things catch Kane's eye. The large wall safe is flung open. On the floor is a gold toolbox where Kane keeps the start-up cash for the weekly bingo game. Last he knew, the box was padlocked in the safe with about $1,500.
Now it's open - and empty.
Kane thinks immediately of the strangers and panhandlers who regularly ring the rectory bell, knock at the door, or wander through the church. And he thinks of the kindhearted pastor who rarely turns them away.
This was a friggin' robbery! the business manager says to himself. Father Willy opened the door, and something went bad - and now he's dead!
Kane shares his suspicions with the arson investigators, the assistant pastor, and a coworker.
MARION, OHIO AUGUST 2009
Montgomery wears the same blue shirt he wore during our visit the day before. It has to be the same one, unless he has two identical shirts with a slightly frayed collar and a light stain where a right breast pocket would be, if he were allowed to have shirt pockets.
I don't ask. But it makes me wonder what life is like for my Archbishop Carroll High School classmate after six years behind bars, and with no chance of parole until 2026. What constitutes a good day? Clean laundry?
Montgomery tells me he lives in an honor cube, reserved for inmates with good behavior.
All his possessions must fit in a tiny desk, a dresser with four drawers, and a 2.4-cubic-foot crate. He shares a bunk bed, sleeping on the bottom because of unexplained seizures. Since college, he has taken an antiseizure medication called Dilantin.
Four times a day, the inmates return to their cells for "counts." Montgomery says he spends hours daily in the law library, where he helps inmates on matters from divorces to appeals. About 80 percent of Ohio prisoners are high school dropouts.
Montgomery, a King of Prussia native, graduated with honors from the University of Dayton. He followed with a master's degree in social work from the Catholic University of America in Washington, then moved in 1990 to New York.
But his forays into social work ended badly.
He tells me he was overwhelmed managing a social-work office in Brooklyn and ultimately fired. He lost another job as a foster-care worker for giving cash to a boy he was supervising. According to Montgomery, the boy said he needed shoes but instead bought drugs.
After moving in with his parents in 1995, Montgomery attended an open house for the Franciscans at Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia. He thought he had finally found his calling.
Their namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, was the ultimate social worker, shunning the material world to care for the poor and powerless.
But again, Montgomery struggled. After living in Franciscan group houses in Wisconsin and Indiana, he moved to Chicago in June 1998 to complete his studies and training.
He falters when I ask for the names of his lasting friends in the Franciscans. He concedes he didn't complete his course work at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. And the children's clinic where he volunteered asked him not to return.
He also clashed with the older priest assigned as his mentor. That friar concluded Montgomery was emotionally troubled and sent him to a psychiatrist.
As Montgomery tells me about Chicago, he gets intense, and his speech accelerates.
More than once, I ask him to slow down and repeat himself. There's no doubt this side of him alienated people, made it easy for high schoolers - and even adults - to tag him as odd, a misfit.
I can't help but wonder: Is he boiling over? Is this what happened seven years ago?
It's true Montgomery has a reputation as a social-justice activist. He was into community service long before high schools required it from students. In college, he marched in peace rallies and joined a sit-in at the university president's office to protest CIA recruiting on campus.
That doesn't mean he can't get angry or explode. I tell Montgomery I vividly recall him and another teen tumbling over desks in a fight during an honors English class. I can't recall the reason, but think it had been a bubbling feud, one in which Montgomery was pushed to a brink.
He dismisses the fight with a shrug. Had there been others?
I ask if he has had trouble in prison. He says he once spent 12 days in protective custody - the hole - after being caught smuggling contraband under his shirt.
According to Montgomery, the contraband was cookies and envelopes for an inmate trying to repay a gambling debt to the Latin Kings gang.
I stifle a grin. There's something surreal about the image of Montgomery - a classmate who read Shakespeare aloud in a British accent - spending time in the hole and on the run from a notorious prison gang.
In other ways, he seems settled in prison. He says he belongs to a Bible study group and attends Toastmasters, a public-speaking class. He says he has friends, including a central Ohio drug dealer and a Cleveland man who contends he was wrongly convicted of raping a 9-year-old girl.
Montgomery writes his parents regularly and talks to them for 15 minutes by phone most Sundays.
His father, Joseph, is a retired community college professor. His mother, Janice, is a retired college secretary. They drive to the prison every few months, if weather and their health cooperate. His older brother and sister are the other regular visitors.
I always assumed Montgomery had a crowd of his own in high school. But it's clearer now that friends have been hard to come by.
He tells me he was secretly molested as a young boy by a neighbor, suggesting this may have played a role in his struggle to form lasting relationships. I ask about girlfriends; he says that there was a girl once, when he worked in New York, but that he scared her away. I'm not sure what to believe, or if any of it is relevant.
Mine is not an authorized press visit. Because most prisons give broader access to relatives and friends than to reporters, Montgomery has registered me as a friend on his visitors' list.
The trade-off is having to pass through metal detectors with my pockets inside out, unable to take anything through the two thick metal doors into the visiting room.
So each day, I borrow a pencil and paper from a guard and scrawl notes inconspicuously as Montgomery talks.
His contention is not outlandish: He says he was unstable and suicidally depressed over his impending move when police told him he must have killed Gulas. He says he didn't eat during hours of interrogation and was anxious because he had not taken his antiseizure medication. He says detectives drafted the confession, then persuaded him to sign it.
Montgomery tells me that his lawyers ignored his assertions of innocence and desire to fight the charges. That they insisted his only option was a plea deal - to spare him the death penalty and his family, parish, and religious order the pain (and expense) of a trial he would not win. That he was broken, and surrendered.
Believing him requires a bit of conspiratorial thinking, of course, accepting that somehow, others - perhaps many others - let an innocent man take a murder rap.
I've met enough decent people in the criminal-justice system to think such a scheme would be too hard for anyone to pull off.
But I tell Montgomery I do understand how pressure to quickly solve a high-profile case can lead to shortcuts and mistakes, sometimes with tragic results.
Still, he has little to stand on. He was the one who took the plea instead of a trial. I also expect that somewhere - probably in police files Montgomery says he never saw - is incontrovertible proof he murdered Gulas.
Then there's the way he acts. We have talked for nine hours, yet often his responses seem guarded, hesitant, even robotic. I can't help but think: Is he trying to convince me he's innocent, or himself?
CLEVELAND DEC. 8, 2002
The Cleveland Justice Center complex fills almost a full block on the city's northeast corner, just off Lake Erie and a 20-minute ride from St. Stanislaus' neighborhood, Slavic Village. It includes a 26-story tower with courtrooms, the Cuyahoga County District Attorney's Office, and police and arson headquarters.
That's where the arson investigators take Montgomery after picking him up outside the church. The leader of his Franciscan province, the Rev. Thomas Luczak, goes, too.
Montgomery repeats for Lts. Albert Lugo and Daniel Kovacic his account of the fire: He ate breakfast and attendedMass, then retreated to the rectory basement to watch television and read the newspaper. His impending departure had plunged him into a deep depression, he says. He wanted to avoid people. Around 12:15 p.m., he climbed to his second-floor bedroom and fell asleep.
A hallway phone woke him minutes later, he says. The caller wanted the number for the parish social center.
Montgomery tells them he walked to the first floor, saw flames, hung up the extension, and phoned 911. He says he tried to douse the fire with an extinguisher, then fled.
The investigators are skeptical. How could he have not smelled smoke before or during the call? And didn't he hear Gulas in his office, or see his body?
An hour or so after the interview begins, Kovacic steps out for a call from the coroner: Gulas was badly burned, she tells him, but the fire didn't kill him. A gunshot did.
The lieutenant returns with the news. Montgomery feels as if his world is crashing.
He has been a failure as a friar; his future is bleak. Now someone has murdered the 68-year-old pastor, one of the few people who was nice to him.
Then the officers accuse Montgomery of being the killer. He repeatedly denies it.
Luczak sits outside the room, unaware that the meeting has shifted to an interrogation. What to do with Montgomery had been one of Luczak's biggest challenges as the province leader. Some brothers on the formation counsel - the group that monitors friars - had been lobbying to dismiss Brother Dan. One worried the Franciscans would be paying his therapy bills for years.
Luczak is more willing to take a chance. He recalls watching Montgomery give a talk on religious vocations during a Mass in Gary, Ind.
That day, Montgomery was eloquent, calm, persuasive - attributes he normally lacked. Luczak was impressed. Maybe we're on to something here, he thought then.
Sitting outside the arson investigators' office, he's not so sure. The detectives don't tell him what's going on. They invite him into the room to urge Montgomery to cooperate.
Dan, tell them what they want to know, Luczak says. Let's get to the truth.
About three hours into the interrogation, the investigators press Montgomery to write a statement.
"I can remember the fire starting before 12:30," he scrawls. "I do not remember leaving the rectory, so Willy's office or my office on the second floor would be the most likely places to look for a gun. Everything else seems like an out-of-body experience. . . . I have no recollection or a total supression [sic] of memories involving a gun. Maybe some work with a psychiatrist could help me recall these memories. I'm trying, but I just don't think I can go any further right now."
Down the hall, Jim Metzler, a homicide detective, is settling in for his 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift when his lieutenant approaches. Metzler had heard about the fire at St. Stan's - he once was a patrolman in Slavic Village. But he doesn't know the case has been reclassified as a murder. Or that Montgomery is the primary suspect.
We think this guy did it, and I want you to join the interview, the lieutenant tells Metzler. They can't get anywhere with this guy.
VILLANOVA NOVEMBER 2009
About 90 people fill the ballroom at Overbrook Country Club. Not a bad showing for a 25th high school reunion.
A registration table near the door is papered with pages from the 1984 Archbishop Carroll yearbook. As I grab a red marker and lean down to write my name tag, I notice a photo from a school dance. Walking from the picture, it seems, is Montgomery.
Here and there, I bring up his case with former classmates. Some had not heard about it. Others aren't shocked that Disco Dan might spend life in prison for killing a priest.
One woman who grew up in his King of Prussia neighborhood tells me Montgomery was always on edge. She remembers riding in his car when he got his driver's license, how he was so afraid of curbs that he drove in the middle of the road.
Another recalls him as an outcast at Mother of Divine Providence grade school. She says she felt sorry for him because she knew what it felt like to be an outsider.
As I explain my interest in the case, a friend smirks. Montgomery confessed and pleaded guilty, he says. Where exactly is the doubt?
In a way, he's right. Prosecutors rarely have a stronger piece of evidence than a signed confession.
A defendant who tries to recant essentially tells jurors: I was lying then - making up a tale that could send me to prison for years. Now I am telling the truth. Let me go.
And yet, I've discovered, it happens. Again and again. The refinement of DNA testing is arguably one of the most profound criminal-justice advances in the last century. With this technology, investigators can, with near certainty, tie a suspect to a victim or a crime scene. By the same token, they can rule out others - even those who confess.
Since its founding two decades ago, the Innocence Project has used DNA to exonerate more than 260 convicted inmates. More than a quarter of those first confessed.
Such cases have spurred an avalanche of studies. One researcher, Samuel Gross, compares false confessions to traffic accidents - "caused by a mix of carelessness, misconduct, and bad luck."
The same factors are often cited: deceptive questioning and tunnel vision by detectives; a grueling, hours-long interrogation; ineffective defense counsel; or a suspect who lacks a rock-solid alibi and may suffer from a low IQ or mental illness.
In a 2004 study of 125 defendants proved innocent after confessing to a crime, researchers Richard Leo and Steve Drizin found that more than 80 percent of the subjects had been questioned for more than six hours, three times longer than the average interrogation. And most of those examples involved murders, bolstering the argument that false statements typically occur in the highest-profile crimes, when police face pressure to crack a case.
Fourteen men in the study also pleaded guilty, typically to avoid the death penalty.
Leo, a University of San Francisco law professor, later tells me that sample of false guilty pleas is "surely the tip of the iceberg."
Of course, Montgomery's case has a critical difference. In the others, DNA exonerated the defendant or led to the killer. As far as I know, there were no other suspects in Gulas' death. And no physical evidence to identify the murderer.
The cynic in me suspects Montgomery is guilty, that he's feigning innocence to spare his family grief and shame, or in a desperate ploy to co-opt any fool as an ally. Maybe I'm that fool.
No one seems hard-pressed to accept him as a killer. By his own admissions, he has struggled his whole life to fit in.
And what if he isn't lying, if he was bullied into a possible life term for a crime he didn't commit? What if, as in high school, he was the easy mark? Should I care?
As the reunion winds down, I walk past the registration table and notice that people used the markers to add comments on some yearbook pages. Over Montgomery's photo, someone scrawled: "In Jail."
CLEVELAND DEC. 8, 2002
Metzler, the homicide detective, is reluctant to barge into the investigation - just as he'd resent another detective trampling on one of his. But he understands the request from his lieutenant. This is hardly a routine matter for arson detectives.
Gulas' death is a high-profile murder of a popular pastor in a changing neighborhood with simmering racial and cultural tension. Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell is planning a news conference to announce the murder and pledge a round-the-clock hunt for the killer. It's critical to temper the outrage in Slavic Village.
Metzler has been a Cleveland cop for 20 years, a detective for half that time, and a homicide investigator since 2000. He has closed hundreds of cases and spent countless hours questioning suspects. He's lean, a few inches over 6 feet, with graying hair and a distinct Cleveland accent.
Metzler knows the keys to a good interrogation: Pretend you have all the evidence you need, but do whatever you can to keep a suspect talking. Sometimes that means persuading the perp that he, Jimmy Metzler, is there to help.
One of Metzler's signature techniques is his "Team Ohio" recruiting speech.
Listen, he tells suspects. In the courtroom, you're either on their team or our team. Don't you want to be on the winning team, Team Ohio? Think about what you can say to get on our team.
Around 5 p.m., Metzler strides down the hall to the arson office where Montgomery waits. As the detective walks in, he notices Montgomery kneeling in a corner. He appears to be praying.
The fire detectives said Montgomery had been consistent about the morning of the murder: He ate breakfast and attended Mass, read the paper, and watched television in the rectory basement before going to sleep upstairs and waking to the phone.
But as they kept trying to refine the chronology, Montgomery struggled to account for 15 minutes before his nap.
Metzler starts there.
If you did this, there's a reason, the detective says. We can get you some help. But I gotta tell you, this 'I don't remember 15 minutes' is bull-. Nobody's buying that here.
Metzler asks Montgomery if he owns a gun. The friar isn't sure. He begins rifling through his wallet, pulling out papers, looking for a gun receipt. Then he hands the wallet to the detective. Metzler finds nothing.
The interrogation continues for three hours. None of it is recorded, and Metzler doesn't take notes. The detectives offer food, but Montgomery declines; he has chronic intestinal problems.
Luczak, the Franciscan leader, is gone, escorted to the morgue to identify the pastor's corpse. Montgomery doesn't ask for a lawyer.
Metzler knows about Brother Dan's problems at St. Stan's, that students complained and that Montgomery was being reassigned.
He starts playing to Montgomery's faith, to his values as a Christian. How can you lie about this? he rants. You did this! You gotta come clean.
Finally, Montgomery drops his head in his hands, says he needs help. He agrees to tell the detective what he wants to know.
Metzler looks at the clock. It's 8 p.m., more than seven hours after Montgomery arrived downtown. Metzler tells the arson investigators to take Montgomery to his office in the homicide unit so he can draft the confession.
There, Metzler pounds at his typewriter, stopping to ask questions and double-check facts with Montgomery. When he's done, nearly 90 minutes later, the confession fills two sheets. Montgomery signs both.
It opens: "I have been a brother in the Catholic Church for 41/2 years. I have been at St. Stanislaus since July of 2002. I have been a tutor in the elementary school there and recently I had a problem where I was accused of inappropriate touching of three students."
Montgomery's statement says he had been barred from the school and was being transferred to Indiana. "I was very sad and very angry to learn about them moving me," it says. "I was so angry and enraged that I wanted to hurt someone."
The confession describes his visit to K&S, the market where, he says, he bought a gun for $40. It says he stashed the weapon in his room until noon Saturday.
"I took the .38 caliber pistol from my desk drawer and I walked down to Father Willy's office," it says. ". . . I walked in his office and he was sitting at his desk. I was holding the gun in my right hand and down at my side. I then lifted the gun up and said 'I CANT F-ING TAKE THIS ANYMORE' and I fired one shot at Father Willy."
The statement says Montgomery saw blood ooze from Gulas' chest. Then he dropped the gun, grabbed a hallway candlelighter, and lighted papers on the pastor's desk. He returned to his bedroom, fell asleep, and woke to the ringing phone.
"I could not remember what I did because I was suppressing my memory," the statement ends. "I finally realized I needed to tell the truth about what happened. I did not want to put the parishioners through this. I think I need help for my anger."
The detectives charge Montgomery with murder and arson. Before he's jailed, they let him phone his parents. In a rambling conversation, he tells his mother about his arrest and asks if he has a split personality, as he says one interrogator suggested.
The officers escort Montgomery to the adjoining Cuyahoga County Corrections Center, where he is placed under suicide watch. He strips, puts on a paper suit and slippers, and, for the first time in his life, sleeps in a jail cell.
That night, word seeps back to Slavic Village that Montgomery has confessed and been charged with Gulas' murder. The news brings with it an odd sense of relief. Father Willy's killer was the newcomer to Slavic Village. There will be no vigilantism, no retribution.
For Metzler and his colleagues, the toughest part of the investigation is over.
Now they have to find the gun.
Scouring for evidence, detectives make a jailhouse visit.
The path to a plea deal ends the case, but not the questions.
Contact staff writer John P. Martin
at 215-854-4774 or email@example.com.