Local/State

Judge denies mistrial, priest jury back at work

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A priest awaiting a verdict in a sexual-abuse case won't get a mistrial over the airing of testimony during jury deliberations.

The Rev. James Brennan's lawyer complained the judge had the accuser's testimony from a related church trial read aloud Tuesday even though the jury hadn't heard it during the three-month trial. Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina granted the jury's request to hear the testimony because a transcript of the 2008 church trial was in evidence.

Deliberations have now resumed for an eighth day, after a day off at the jury's request. The trial started March 26, and the jury got the case June 1.

Sarmina declined a suggestion from lawyers to ask about the status of the deliberations. And she denied the jury's request to rehear key testimony that had stretched over several trial days, including that of Brennan's accuser in early April.

"You are going to have to rely on your memory," Sarmina said.

The 30-year-old man accused Brennan of molesting him when he was 14, during an overnight stay at the priest's apartment in 1996.

Brennan admitted at his canonical trial that he slept with the teen, wrestled with him, watched porn and discussed masturbation, but denied any sexual contact.

Brennan, 48, is on trial with Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese. Lynn, 61, is the first U.S. church official charged over his handling of sex-abuse complaints.

Speculation that the jury had perhaps finished with one defendant was muted this week by questions involving both Lynn and Brennan.

On Thursday, the panel asked for documents related to Lynn's handling of a complaint against the Rev. Thomas J. Wisniewski in July 1992.

Wisniewski is one of the approximately 20 priest files that were aired at length to show Lynn's pattern of behavior, but are not directly linked to the charges. All but four of the 40 trial days involved that collateral evidence, according to Lynn's lawyers.

The jury also has asked to revisit most of the direct evidence involving the two accusers: Brennan's alleged victim and a man who was sexually assaulted by defrocked priest Edward Avery in 1999. Avery pleaded guilty to the charge before trial.

Lynn is accused of endangering both of those young men, and of conspiring with others to do so.

The Wisniewski complaint came in just weeks after Lynn took office.

A woman told Lynn that Wisniewski had had a three-year relationship with her ex-boyfriend, starting when he was a Cardinal O'Hara High School student. A priest confidante of the alleged victim accompanied her to the meeting. They said the man might be willing to share his story, and raised concerns there may be other victims, according to a 2005 grand jury report.

Wisniewski admitted the allegation, the report said. He was sent for treatment at a church-run hospital, then returned to ministry with little supervision, the grand jury found. Lynn never tried to talk to the accuser or look for other potential victims. Lynn has testified that therapists discouraged the practice.

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died in January, kept tabs on the situation, and approved the later assignment, the report said.

Wisniewski remains a priest but had his ministry restricted to a life of prayer and penance in 2004, after U.S. bishops agreed to a "zero tolerance" policy for credibly accused priests. A phone number for him could not be found Thursday.

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philadelphia, philadelphia archdiocese, child sex assault, local/state
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