PHILADELPHIA — The former altar boy's story was jarring, even amid scores of priest-abuse complaints in Philadelphia.
A policeman's son, he told authorities in 2009 that he had been raped by three adults — two parish priests and his sixth-grade teacher — during grade school. He'd gone on to a troubled life marked by drug arrests, dropping out of high school and nearly two dozen stints in rehab.
Prosecutors believed his abuse claims. They used his story to help build a landmark conspiracy case against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and dubbed him "Billy" in their 2011 grand jury report.
Now the troubled young man's credibility will be on the line when two of the men he's accused go on trial.
"There's going to be some rough times in cross-examination. There always are," said Philadelphia lawyer Slade McLaughlin, who represents the 24-year-old in a civil lawsuit against the church. The broader conspiracy trial ended in June with the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, the church official who kept one of Billy's alleged attackers, former priest Edward Avery, at St. Jerome's despite an earlier complaint. Avery pleaded guilty to sexual assault in March in a deal with prosecutors that netted him two-and-a-half to five years in prison.
Lynn was the first U.S. church supervisor convicted of endangering children by helping the church shuttle accused priests from parish to parish.
The other alleged attackers, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and ex-teacher Bernard Shero, go on trial today.
And though Billy testified at Lynn's trial, his second visit to the witness stand may prove far more treacherous. Lynn's lawyers chose not to cross-examine him because of concerns the judge would let jurors hear about Avery's plea if they challenged Billy's credibility.
But he's bound to face tough questioning this time, as the 65-year-old Engelhardt and 49-year-old Shero fight rape charges that could send them to prison for years.
"He's been through it once, but in a very different scenario," McLaughlin acknowledged. It's not yet clear whether defense lawyers will be allowed to explore his arrest record.