Philadelphia jurors ask for guidance in priest sex-abuse case

Monsignor William Lynn arrives at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia during a jury question Tuesday afternoon June 5, 2012. Monsignor Lynn is accused of covering up for the alleged abuses by priests, while Rev Brennan (not shown) is accused of attempted rape of a minor. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
Monsignor William Lynn arrives at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia during a jury question Tuesday afternoon June 5, 2012. Monsignor Lynn is accused of covering up for the alleged abuses by priests, while Rev Brennan (not shown) is accused of attempted rape of a minor. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
Posted: June 06, 2012

Jurors in the landmark Philadelphia clergy sex-abuse trial ended deliberations early Tuesday after another day of questions and legal skirmishes about the scope of the charges.

The panel of seven men and five women asked Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to let them leave at 3:20 p.m., nearly an hour earlier than they had departed Monday, their first full day of talks.

Three times in barely two hours, they asked the judge and lawyers for guidance on the child-endangerment counts against Msgr. William J. Lynn and the Rev. James J. Brennan. It was the second straight day the jurors sought clarification about the charge, though it was unclear if the requests meant they were close or far from reaching verdicts.

The jurors also asked to see the trial evidence on Brennan, who is accused of trying to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996. And they asked for a definition of circumstantial evidence.

Both defendants are accused of endangering children, but their cases have subtle differences. The jurors’ questions highlighted what was long a contentious issue in cases involving sex crimes against children: the statute of limitations.

The abuse allegation against Brennan occurred before state legislators had extended the statute in child-sex crimes, so prosecutors could not try the priest for endangering just his accuser. Instead, they allege that his attempted rape was part of "a course of conduct" that put other unnamed children at risk through 2006, when he was removed from active ministry.

Because of that, Sarmina told jurors that they could not convict Brennan of endangerment unless they found he put other minors at risk.

Brennan’s lawyers had pointed out throughout the 11-week trial that no other accusers had come forward against him since the allegations were made public in 2006.

Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the archdiocese, is accused of endangering children by recommending that Brennan and another priest, Edward Avery, be allowed to live or work in parishes in the 1990s despite alleged signs they might abuse minors.

Avery, who has since been defrocked, pleaded guilty before trial to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999.

Because the boy was still a minor when the law was amended, the crime fell within the new statute of limitations for child endangerment. So the judge told jurors they could convict Lynn of endangerment even if they concluded that just that boy was at risk.

The monsignor’s lawyers have signaled they will challenge the interpretations if Lynn is convicted.

"This is a very dubious proposition — there isn’t any way this is a clear case," attorney Alan J. Tauber told Sarmina.

Sarmina declined a request by prosecutors to explain for jurors the differing statutes of limitations. Instead, she told the panel that the two charges were "different for legal reasons — and that’s as much as I can tell you."

She ordered jurors to resume deliberations Wednesday morning.

Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or jmartin@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JPMartinInky.  We invite you to comment on this story by clicking here. Comments will be moderated.

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