More questions, but no verdict from Philly priest abuse trial jury

Posted: June 08, 2012

After spending two days inquiring about complex legal terms, jurors in the Philadelphia Archdiocese clergy-sex abuse trial appeared to struggle Wednesday to agree on the meaning of agree.

That was one of words they asked Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to explain for them. The panel also wanted definitions of pedophile and ephebophile. And they asked to see evidence related to 13 accused priests who had been mentioned during the landmark trial.

The requests marked the third time in as many days of deliberations that the panel of seven men and five women sought guidance or evidence in the child-endangerment and sex-abuse case against Msgr. William J. Lynn and the Rev. James J. Brennan.

Jurors got some answers but ended the day without signs they were near a verdict.

The lawyers agreed that pedophile generally refers to an adult who is sexually attracted to children and that an ephebophile is drawn to adolescents.

But Alan J. Tauber, one of four lawyers for Lynn, noted that neither side offered an expert during the trial to define the terms. He said it would be wrong to do so now.

"The parties chose how they were going to present the case," he said. "I think [the jurors] have to rely on the evidence."

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington agreed. "The words have both medical and common definitions," he said.

Jurors also asked the judge to explain the meaning of agree in terms of a conspiracy. She reread them her jury instruction, which described such a pact as "a common understanding."

Minutes later, jurors had a follow-up question: Do all parties in a conspiracy have to know they are committing a crime?

No, the judge replied in a written note.

The stream of questions had the defendants, their lawyers, reporters, and others parading back and forth to the courtroom throughout the day.

As she walked off the bench toward the end of the day, Sarmina quipped to the lawyers: "So, I guess I'll see you all at the next question."

That next one became the last: The jurors asked for a marker board and easel.

They'll get it when they return Thursday morning, Sarmina said. Then she excused them for the day.

Lynn, the former archdiocesan secretary for clergy, is accused of conspiracy and endangering children by recommending a priest, Edward Avery, for assignments in the 1990s despite signs he might abuse minors. Avery, who has since been defrocked, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999.

Brennan is accused of trying to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996, and of endangering other unnamed children when he served as a parish priest in the ensuing years.

Contact John P. Martin at 215-341-2597,, or follow @JPMartinInky on Twitter. We invite you to comment on this story by clicking here. Comments will be moderated.

comments powered by Disqus