In yet another shocking development in the Philadelphia clergy abuse trials, journalist Ralph Cipriano is now exclusively reporting that an alternate juror in the recent trial of Fr. Charles Engelhardt and former teacher Bernard Shero thinks that the guilty verdicts in January against the pair were "insane," "incredible," and "a tragic miscarriage of justice."
This latest revelation adds even more evidence to the case that Engelhardt and Shero were wrongly convicted for crimes they did not commit.
Despite the fact that the accuser repeatedly told radically wild and inconsistent versions of the abuse he suffered – inconsistent to the point that even members of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office questioned whether they should even try the case – an apparent runaway jury actually believed accuser Daniel P. Gallagher and convicted Engelhardt and Shero. Gallagher, an admitted drug addict with an extensive arrest record, told incredible stories claiming that during the 1998-1999 school year, when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in Philadelphia, he was viciously raped and abused – sometimes for hours on end – by three separate men (Engelhardt, Shero, and former priest Edward Avery), all of whom barely even knew each other.
A juror is stunned
According to Cipriano, the female alternate juror, who had listened to all of the evidence, was completely flabbergasted by the fact that Engelhardt and Shero were actually convicted. Cipriano quotes the woman:
- "I couldn't believe it. I thought for sure they were going to vote not guilty because there was absolutely no proof that these men had done that";
- "I was completely shocked by it … I think it was a tragic miscarriage of justice";
- "The prosecution was riddled full of reasonable doubt";
- "What I couldn't get over was there was no consistencies about the story … Nothing was consistent. Not what happened, not where it happened";
- "[The whole prosecution case] seemed like it was propped up on unbelievable facts."
"I have kids lying to me every day," she told Cipriano. "I felt like I was watching somebody trying to get out of trouble."
For example, Gallagher claimed that he was raped twice in a church, including a sacristy, which according to trial testimony obtained by Cipriano, "was a place traversed by priests, altar boys, sextons, nuns, the church pastor and parishioners, all passing through on their way to the church, the sanctuary, a storage room, and the only bathroom in the place."
"To believe that no one would be around for that period of time," the woman has told Cipriano. "That to me was outrageous, that no one would notice, no one would hear anything."
A stinging rebuke of the D.A's Office
As a teacher herself, the juror did not like the way Cipolletti attacked Gallagher's former grade-school teachers on the stand.
"I felt it was a vicious prosecution to start with," the woman said. "The prosecution was nasty to everybody who stepped up there.
"Cipolletti was a bully. This guy's a jerk. He's so snotty he couldn't talk to anybody. I hope that I'm never up against D.A. Cipolletti because he's a snotty jerk.
"It was insane to watch people treated that way," she added. "It was crazy to watch this play out."
Cipriano: A tenacious journalist continues to stride forward
Ralph Cipriano exemplifies a brand of journalism that is very rarely seen anymore. Cipriano has done simply amazing work on this case, doggedly pursuing the facts of this matter not because its message is popular but because justice demands it. Cipriano has written very critically of Church officials in Philadelphia in the past, so he cannot be dismissed as some apologist for Catholics.
Cipriano writes that not only was the alternate juror shocked by the verdict but so were all of the weathered and often cynical reporters who attended the trial:
"[The verdicts] not only shocked this alternate, but also just about every reporter who covered the case, as well as the former sex abuse victims and the many lawyers who visited the courtroom during the trial.
"Whether you chose to believe Billy Doe or not, the verdict made no sense, because it was not supported by the evidence presented at trial.
"The district attorney was surprised by the verdict; the lead prosecutor expected to lose."
Cipriano ends his post with a hope that other jurors come forward to tell their versions of events. He writes: "In this Lenten season, if any more jurors care to unburden themselves, Ralph Cipriano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymity is available; a sympathetic ear guaranteed."
Catholic priests: Guilty until proven innocent
Meanwhile, as for the juror herself, she acknowledges something which many of us who cover the issue have already known for quite a while: Because of the media's exaggerated and lurid coverage of the issue over the last two decades, all Catholic priests are now deemed guilty of abuse charges even if evidence may prove otherwise.
"What was the juror's takeaway from her first brush with the criminal justice system?
"'Innocent until proven guilty,' she said. But, 'that's not the case if you're a Catholic priest.'
"The woman who is not a Catholic said there has been so much publicity over the sex scandals in the Catholic church that 'priests are assumed to be guilty immediately'."
Engelhardt and Shero are scheduled to be sentenced in only a few weeks, April 18.
It will take something truly remarkable to prevent them from going to jail for crimes they did not commit.