Mistrial declared in priest's sex-assault case

The Rev. Andrew McCormick was suspended in March 2011 with others.
The Rev. Andrew McCormick was suspended in March 2011 with others.
Posted: March 14, 2014

PHILADELPHIA A Philadelphia judge Wednesday declared a mistrial in the sexual-assault case against the Rev. Andrew McCormick after a tired and despondent-looking jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked.

Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright's late-afternoon ruling came an hour after she urged the jury of nine women and three men to try once more to resolve differences and reach a unanimous verdict.

"Nothing has changed since your last charge," read the forewoman's note to the judge. "We are still deadlocked. Discussions have ceased."

After the jurors were dismissed, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp told Bright she would retry the 57-year-old Catholic priest on charges he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy in 1997 in the priest's bedroom at the rectory of St. John Cantius church in Bridesburg.

Kemp's announcement was immediately followed by defense attorney William J. Brennan Jr.'s request to be removed as McCormick's lawyer.

"At this point, I'm done," the ordinarily gregarious Brennan said in a whisper.

Several times during trial, which began Feb. 27, Brennan said he felt conflicted representing McCormick because he discovered only recently that he knew the extended family of the 26-year-old alleged victim. By then, it was too close to trial for Brennan to withdraw, and McCormick affirmed that he still wanted Brennan to defend him.

Bright granted Brennan's motion and told McCormick to hire a new lawyer in time for an April 28 hearing to schedule the retrial. Bright also ordered lawyers, witnesses, and the jurors not to speak to reporters or comment publicly, to avoid prejudicing the retrial.

McCormick was the second priest Brennan defended on sex-assault charges and it was the second trial that ended in a hung jury. Brennan will represent the Rev. James J. Brennan - who is not related - at the 50-year-old priest's June 16 retrial for the attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996.

The mistrial announcement did not trigger any apparent reaction by McCormick, his accuser, or their families and supporters. The jurors had deliberated about 29 hours since getting the case last Thursday, and by Tuesday afternoon, their questions revealed a growing divide on the panel.

From the trial's start, Brennan told the jurors they would have to decide whom to believe: McCormick, a priest for 32 years, or his accuser, who testified that McCormick targeted him because he was trying to accept his homosexuality and his mother had asked the priest to counsel the boy.

In an effort to break the stalemate, the jury spent 90 minutes Wednesday morning listening to the court stenographer read back the accuser's Feb. 27 testimony.

The accuser, sitting with his family, began quietly crying as he heard his own words describe how McCormick took him to the bedroom, undressed him, and tried to force him to perform a sex act.

After the reading, Bright reinstructed the jury about weighing uncorroborated testimony.

Although the accuser said he saw no one else in the rectory the night of the alleged assault, the judge told jurors the law allowed them to return a guilty verdict on the "victim's testimony alone if you believe it is true."

McCormick, ordained in 1982, was pastor of Sacred Heart parish near Bridgeport, Montgomery County, when he and 26 Roman Catholic priests were suspended in March 2011 by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for possible inappropriate conduct with children.

After the mistrial, the archdiocese issued a statement emphasizing that McCormick "has not exercised public ministry" and cannot present himself as a priest in good standing. McCormick now lives with his parents in Pottstown.

The statement also said: "The archdiocese was not involved in Father McCormick's legal defense and did not underwrite its costs."


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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