A municipal judge stunned Philadelphia prosecutors today when she threw out the most serious charges against a former Roman Catholic pastor accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old Philadelphia altar boy in 1997.
Judge Karen Simmons ruled after the alleged victim testified that the Rev. Andrew McCormick led him to his rectory bedroom in the city's Bridesburg section one evening in 1997, stripped to his boxers, straddled the altar boy and tried to force him to perform oral sex.
McCormick's lawyer, William J. Brennan, argued that the allegations didn't justify felony sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charges because there was "absolutely no evidence" of clear penetration, as he said the law requires.
Simmons agreed - and dismissed those counts.
The judge left intact misdemeanor charges of indecent assault, child endangerment and corruption of minors against McCormick.
Minutes after the ruling, prosecutors scrambled to repair the case.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Carpenter, who heads the the office's Family Violence Unit, rushed back to the courtroom with Assistant District Attorney Jack O'Neill to again plead their case that the felony statutes cover conduct like the accuser described.
After an exchange that started cordial but grew testy, Simmons would not let them amend the charges.
"I heard the facts, I am familiar with the law," she said.
Prosecutors said they would ask a Common Pleas Court judge to review and reverse the ruling, as soon as today.
"The Commonwealth is very confident that all the felony charges will be reinstated," said Tasha Jamerson, a spokesman for District Attorney Seth Williams.
Still, the decision was an unexpected setback in a case that grew out of the wide-ranging grand jury investigation into clergy sex-abuse by Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests.
McCormick, 56, was one of two dozen clerics suspended last year while the archdiocese re-examined past abuse claims against them. Church officials acted after the grand jury claimed the archdiocese had left priests in ministry despite credible accusations of child-sex abuse.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has since permanently removed seven of those priests from ministry, and restored six. Decisions are pending against nearly a dozen others.
McCormick, most recently pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Bridgeport, Montgomery County, has been the only one charged with a crime.