Judge rules priest abuse trial jury can't rehear testimony

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina
Judge M. Teresa Sarmina
Posted: June 15, 2012

The judge in the clergy sex-abuse trial told jurors Thursday that they will not get to rehear days of testimony from crucial witnesses in the case as they requested.

"I know it is a long, long time ago when we started with all the evidence," Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina told the seven men and five women on the jury as they began their eighth day of deliberations. "You are going to have to rely on your memory."

Sarmina ruled after lawyers for the defendants, Msgr. William J. Lynn and the Rev. James J. Brennan, argued that the jury's request was cumbersome and amounted to retrying the case. In particular, jurors had asked to hear nearly two days of testimony from a man who has accused Brennan of trying to rape him when he was 14, and from the accuser's mother.

They also sought a read-back of the key witness in the case against Lynn, a former altar boy who claimed he was sexually assaulted in a Northeast Philadelphia church by Edward Avery. Prosecutors say Lynn endangered the boy because he failed to take steps to remove Avery from ministry after another abuse allegation. Avery has pleaded guilty.

Sarmina told the jurors they could request some specific testimony "if there is some sticking point" but urged them to rely first on their joint recollection.

She also denied a bid for a mistrial by Brennan's lawyer.

The attorney, William J. Brennan, no relation, had argued that the judge erred Tuesday when she let jurors hear a transcript of testimony the priest's accuser gave during a 2008 confidential canonical trial. Brennan argued the read-back amounted to new evidence because jurors did not hear the testimony during the trial.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington argued that the transcript had been properly marked and introduced as evidence during the trial. He also said Brennan's mistrial motion, a day and a half after the jurors heard the testimony, was filed too late. Sarmina noted that the panel did not meet on Wednesday but said the motion was not timely.

After a discussion with the lawyers, she chose not to question or press jurors about the pace of their deliberations or offer any assistance.

"I don't know what process they are using; that's left to their discretion," the judge said with the panel out of the courtroom. "It's the jury system. We put it in their hands."

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