Thursday, December 24, 2015

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Orders New Trial For Msgr. Lynn On Priest Abuse Cover-Up

In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Lynn, (PA Super. Ct., Dec. 22, 2015), in a 2-1 decision, a Pennsylvania state appeals court vacated the 2012 conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn who was the first U.S. priest criminally convicted of covering up sexual molestation of minors by another priest. (See prior posting.) The case was remanded for a new trial.  In the case, which was already on remand from the state Supreme Court (see prior posting), the majority concluded that while prior bad acts can be introduced into evidence to show elements such as knowledge, motive and intent relating to the crimes charged, here the introduction of evidence relating to Lynn's handling of complaints against 21 priests in addition to the two priests whose actions Lynn was charged with covering up went too far.  The majority said in part:
The potential for this evidence to unfairly prejudice Appellant was high, both because it involved the sexually abusive acts of numerous priests committed against children over several decades, and because of the high volume of the evidence admitted. Therefore, we conclude that the probative value of that evidence, in toto, did not outweigh its potential for unfair prejudice, and that this potential prejudice was not overcome by the trial court’s cautionary instructions.
Judge Donohue filed a dissenting opinion, saying in part:
The record supports a finding that both Lynn and his predecessors handled prior allegations of sexual abuse against other priests with the motive and intent of shielding the Church from scandal. Thus, there is support for the conclusion that the way Lynn handled the allegations of abuse made against Avery and Brennan “grew out of” and was “caused by” the way Lynn’s predecessors and Lynn himself handled past allegations of sexual abuse committed by other priests.
Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the decision. [Thanks to How Appealing for the lead.]