An Australian court will rule on George Pell’s appeal against child sex abuse charges Wednesday, when the convicted cardinal could walk free or begin a new round in his protracted legal fight.
Once the Vatican’s third-ranking official, 78-year-old Pell was sentenced this year to six years in jail for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.
After more than two months of deliberations, a three-judge appeals panel will hand down their decision.
Pell is the most senior Catholic convicted of child sex abuse, making his case and Wednesday’s ruling a touchstone moment for believers and victims groups around the world.
The clergyman’s lawyers raised 13 objections to his convictions, casting doubt on everything from the physical possibility of Pell removing his robes to the credibility of the main witness.
The case is unusual in that it relies heavily on the closed-door testimony of the sole surviving victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
The verdict could have wide-ranging implications for sexual assault cases that rely on the account of a single victim.
On Monday the father of the second victim — who died of a drug overdose in 2014 — expressed hoped that “justice would prevail” and that the ordeal would soon be over.
“He just wants closure so he can try to get on with his life and stop thinking about it every single day,” lawyer Lisa Flynn told AFP.
But a quick resolution seems unlikely.
If the judges agree with the defence that the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable”, Pell could walk free immediately, although he could face a possible appeal from the state.
Victorian Bar Association president Matt Collins told AFP it was not common for an appeals court to reverse a jury’s verdict but “nor is it rare or unheard of”.
– Retrial or appeal? –
Two so-called “fallback” arguments for Pell relate to alleged procedural errors during his trial.
His lawyers argued they should have been allowed to show an animated reconstruction of people’s movements in the cathedral on the days of the assaults.
They also took issue with the fact that Pell was not arraigned in the presence of the jury. The process was completed via video link so the large pool of potential jurors was able to watch.
If the appeal judges — Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, Court of Appeal president Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg — agree on either of these points they may decide to order another trial.
That would leave open the door for Pell — who has already faced two juries after his first trial in 2018 ended in a hung jury — to argue he would not receive a fair trial third time around.
Finally, the judges could dismiss Pell’s appeal entirely. If that happens, he will have to return to prison to continue serving his six-year sentence.
But he would still be able to challenge the decision in Australia’s High Court, the country’s final court of appeal.
Collins said there was “no doubt” Pell’s legal team would consider this option, with an application for leave to appeal required to be filed within weeks and a decision on whether to hear the appeal usually made within a matter of months.
Rudy Giuliani points the finger at Kurt Volker after Sondland throws him under the bus
Rudy Giuliani blamed the former special envoy to Ukraine for the legal predicament he could be facing from EU ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony.
President Donald Trump was placed at the center of the Ukraine scandal by Sondland and former envoy Kurt Volker, who testified Tuesday that he rejected conspiracy theories pushed by Giuliani about Joe Biden.
Sondland told lawmakers Wednesday that Trump directed diplomats and other officials to "talk to Rudy" about negotiating the release of Ukraine military aid in exchange for an investigation of Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Giuliani then pointed his finger at Volkery, who left the government last month as the scandal erupted into an impeachment inquiry, after joining the State Department in July 2017.
Pence spokesman denies Sondland testimony linking him to Ukraine scheme
Vice President Mike Pence scrambled away from testimony from EU ambassador Gordon Sondland linking him to the Ukraine scandal.
The ambassador told a House impeachment inquiry that Pence was notified of concerns that military aid to Ukraine had been held up until the foreign government announced an investigation of Joe Biden.
“The Vice President never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations," said Pence spokesman Marc Short.
President Donald Trump had been scheduled to meet Ukraine's new president Volodymyr Zelensky on Sept. 1 in Warsaw, but Sondland said the president bowed out to oversee hurricane response and sent Pence instead.
‘It’s all over’: Trump shouts Sondland quotes at reporters before wandering off without taking questions
President Donald Trump did not answer questions while leaving the White House nearly an hour late for an event in Texas.
Trump departed during questioning of Ambassador Gordon Sondland, whose testimony earlier in the day had implicated the president, Vice President Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani and others.
“I don’t know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy though," Trump said of Sondland.
Trump also disputed Sondland's characterization that he had once been in a bad mood.