Priests' lawyers seek delay in sex-abuse trial

pleaded guilty to conspiring with Msgr. Lynn.
pleaded guilty to conspiring with Msgr. Lynn. (Edward Avery)
Posted: March 24, 2012

Defense attorneys asked a judge Friday to delay the conspiracy and child-sex-abuse trial of two Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests, arguing that the surprise guilty plea by a third defendant had altered the case and might have tainted the jury.

Three days before testimony was expected to begin, the attorneys for Msgr. William J. Lynn and the Rev. James J. Brennan said they should be allowed to pick a new jury, a process that could take weeks.

Barring that, they petitioned Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to question jurors individually Monday to make sure they had not been influenced by widespread publicity surrounding the admission by defrocked priest Edward Avery that he had sexually assaulted a 10-year-old boy.

"The news has been saturated" with reports of the plea, Lynn's attorney, Jeffrey Lindy, told the judge.

Sarmina deferred ruling on the issue until Monday. But the request highlighted the significance of Avery's unexpected plea and how it could shape or even halt the landmark trial.

"I have Avery on my mind today," Brennan's attorney, William J. Brennan, conceded to the judge at one point during Friday's conference in court.

Avery, 69, pleaded guilty Thursday to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with the boy in 1999 and conspiring with Lynn and other unnamed church officials to endanger children. Prosecutors said at least four young men had accused Avery of assaulting them over three decades.

Under the terms of his negotiated plea, the former priest was sentenced to 21/2 to five years in prison and must register as a lifetime sexual offender.

The plea agreement does not require Avery to cooperate or testify against the other defendants, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington disclosed Friday.

Avery's plea came after lawyers spent more than two weeks choosing six men and six women jurors, plus 10 alternates, for a trial projected to last at least three months. The jurors were told who the defendants were and the charges against them.

Blessington argued that prosecutors should be allowed to tell jurors that Avery will not be at the trial because he pleaded guilty.

Lawyers for Lynn, the first church official nationwide to be charged with covering up child sex abuse by priests, said such a move would be unfair to their client.

"The inference, of course, is that Avery is pleading guilty to the very conspiracy that Msgr. Lynn has also been charged with," attorney Thomas Bergstrom said.

Lynn, 61, faces conspiracy and endangerment charges stemming from his role as secretary for clergy between 1992 and 2004. Prosecutors say he recommended priests, including Avery, for assignments that gave them access to minors despite knowing or suspecting they would sexually assault children.

Brennan, 49, faces conspiracy and child-sex-assault charges. He is accused of raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

Both men have pleaded not guilty.

On Friday, the judge agreed to privately review 12 confidential church memos that Lynn's defenders say could show that his actions were guided by archdiocesan attorneys and prove his innocence.

Lawyers for the church say the records are protected by attorney-client privilege.


Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or jmartin@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JPMartinInky.

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