By Joseph A. Slobodzian
Tuesday’s scheduled start of jury selection in the trial of a former Philadelphia priest and a Catholic schoolteacher on charges they sexually abused a 10-year-old altar boy was postponed after deaths in the extended family of a defense attorney.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina set a status hearing Friday but announced that her trial schedule made it impossible for her to continue presiding.
Sarmina, one of nine judges assigned to handle only homicide trials, had been specially designated in 2011 to preside over the trials of four priests and one teacher charged after the Philadelphia grand jury report about the sexual abuse of minors by some priests in Philadelphia and efforts by archdiocesan officials to cover up the abuse.
Sarmina handled the three-month trial, which ended in June with the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first church official charged for his supervisory role in dealing with priests accused of sexually abusing children.
Sarmina had carved out two more weeks for the trial of ex-priest Charles Engelhardt and teacher Bernard Shero. But Sarmina said she has back-to-back murder trials through the rest of the year and the new delay made it impossible for her to continue presiding in the now-delayed second trial.
Sarmina’s courtroom was set up for the start of jury selection when court officers announced that Engelhardt’s attorney, Michael J. McGovern, had two deaths in his family in the last few days: a sister-in-law in Florida and an uncle in Philadelphia.
The new judge and trial date are not known; the case will be sent to what is known as a “calendar room” for reassignment.
Engelhardt, 65, and Shero, 49, are charged with rape, sexual assault and related charges in the alleged abuse of a 10-year-old altar boy called “Billy Doe” by prosecutors.
The Inquirer has a policy of not identifying victims of sexual assault.
The assaults allegedly occurred in 1998 and 1999 at St. Jerome’s parish in Northeast Philadelphia. Engelhardt, a hospital chaplain, then lived in the rectory and Shero taught sixth grade in the parish school.
Engelhardt and Shero were originally charged in 2011 with Lynn, Edward Avery, and the Rev. James J. Brennan.
This article was written by Joseph A. Slobodzian and originally published on articles.philly