By Amaris Elliott-Engel
Of the Legal Staff
On the third day of deliberations in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest sex-abuse case, the jury asked a series of questions before asking to break for the day around 3:20 p.m.
One of the jurors’ questions was why they must find that one alleged abuse victim and other unnamed minors were endangered, but could find that another alleged abuse victim was the only minor endangered.
The answer is that the statute of limitations applies, but Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, after hearing arguments from prosecutors and from defense counsel, only told the jury that the difference is for legal reasons and that the jury was astute to notice the difference.
Prosecutor Patrick Blessington argued that statute of limitations is a concept that nonlawyers can readily understand, and “I don’t see why you wouldn’t fully inform the jury why.” Not telling them why there is a difference leads to “imagination [replacing] whole facts,” Blessington argued.
Defense attorneys Alan Tauber and Richard Fuschino both argued that it was too late to instruct the jury on statute of limitations.
The case is believed to be the first criminal prosecution in the country of a church official who did not directly sexually abuse a child on charges of causing harm to alleged abuse victims.
Monsignor William J. Lynn is accused of endangering the welfare of two men who testified they were respectively abused by former priest James J. Brennan, who is maintaining his innocence, or former priest Edward V. Avery, who pled guilty to the abuse.
Lynn also is accused of conspiring with Avery to endanger the welfare of D.G. and other unnamed youths. Sarmina acquitted Brennan and Lynn of a conspiracy charge levied against both of them.
Brennan is accused of the attempted rape and endangering the welfare of M.B. The Legal is not naming the alleged victims.
While M.B. is now 30, the prosecution theory is that he and other unnamed youths were endangered as part of a continuing course of conduct.
One of Brennan’s attorneys, William Brennan, said that M.B. is like a “lawn ornament” being brought into the “promised land of ’07,” which is when the endangering the welfare of children statute was changed, by the theory that M.B. and other unnamed youths were harmed as part of a continuing course of conduct.
One of Lynn’s attorneys, Thomas Bergstrom, repeated the argument that they do not think that unnamed and unidentified minors can be endangered, which inspired Blessington to remark that every time Bergstrom “stands up he makes my blood boil” by repeating that argument.