Lynn conditionally approved to be released to house arrest

Posted: June 28, 2012

After five nights of solitary confinement at Philadelphia's largest prison, Msgr. William J. Lynn has hope for a brief respite before he is sentenced to up to seven years for his role in the Catholic Church sex-abuse case.

Following an often-tense hour-long hearing, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina on Tuesday conditionally approved releasing the 61-year-old cleric to house arrest at the Northeast Philadelphia home of an in-law until he is sentenced on Aug. 13.

But Sarmina delayed Lynn's release until a July 5 hearing while lawyers research her questions about options if he were to flee.

Lynn might have to remain at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility even after July 5, prosecutors said, because of an inmate waiting list for the electronic-monitoring ankle bracelets used to ensure that someone on house arrest stays put.

Lynn, the first church official criminally charged for his administrative duties in the landmark sex-abuse case, was found guilty of endangering children by a jury on Friday.

Sarmina ordered him immediately taken into custody but Lynn's attorneys asked for Tuesday's hearing to come up with a house-arrest plan.

His face red and perspiring, Lynn looked haggard when he first entered the courtroom from a holding cell, escorted by a deputy sheriff. He was dressed in the black short-sleeved shirt and slacks he wore to court on Friday - minus the black jacket and white clerical collar.

Defense attorneys Thomas A. Bergstrom and Jeffrey M. Lindy said Lynn would live in the house of Rita DeCarolis, whose son's late wife was Lynn's sister. DeCarolis, 84, testified briefly that she understood that her house could be called or visited at any time by probation officers checking on Lynn's whereabouts.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington argued against house arrest and said the Roman Catholic Church offers an international support system for priests who could pass unnoticed in clerical garb.

Blessington noted that the Vatican does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. Sarmina appeared taken aback when Blessington submitted a May 1 article from the Chicago Tribune reporting that since 1985, 32 Catholic priests had fled from court jurisdictions while facing criminal charges or investigation for sexual abuse of minors.

The story was about Cook County, Ill., prosecutors announcing they had ended a 10-year effort to extradite the Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti from India to face charges he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old Chicago girl.

Lynn "has no constitutional right to bail now," said Blessington. "It's about flight and whether or not there is an incentive for flight."

Sarmina said the article was too vague to be the source of a ruling. But she asked Blessington, Lindy, and Bergstrom to research whether it would be possible - and effective - for Lynn to sign a waiver of extradition before he is sentenced.

The judge also urged Lynn's lawyers to explain to him that he would forfeit all appellate rights if he flees.

Lynn, whose lawyers surrendered his passport to the judge, said little during the hearing except to promise the judge he would sign whatever waivers she requires.

Lindy told Sarmina he would give up his legal fees if Lynn flees: "He's spent 10 years under investigation and he's never failed to appear. He testified on 14 occasions before the grand jury."

Blessington had urged Sarmina to revoke Lynn's $50,000 bail and jail him until sentencing: "Treat him like the criminal he now is."

Lynn had been living with relatives in Reading since he was suspended last year from his post as pastor of St. Joseph parish in Downingtown.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

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