George Pell’s lawyers allowed 2 key witnesses, Father Charles Portelli and Maxwell Potter, to hop in the witness stand and perjurer themselves like there was no tomorrow which is the smoking gun evidence that brought down George Pell.
Father Charles Portelli and Maxwell Potter both gave evidence that it was physically impossible for George Pell to sexually abuse the 2 boys when he was in his priest’s robe. What they didn’t count on was the jury being given robes to test the truth themselves and given their decision to convict Pell the jury had to have decided that Portelli and Potter were lying.
As you can see by the below transcript, of Pell’s barrister Robert Richter QC cross-examining the victim, the robe claim is something Pell’s defence pushed extremely hard.
Put yourself in the jury’s seat when reading these facts and it is easy to see why they convicted George Pell.
- Firstly, there is Charles Portelli in the witness stand saying that it was impossible for Pell to abuse the children in his robe. At the time Portelli was Assistant priest January 1993–June 1996 and Master of Ceremonies to Archbishop Pell September 1996–2000.
- Secondly, Maxwell Potter in the witness stand saying that it was impossible for Pell to abuse the children in his robe. At the time Potter was Sacristan 1963–2001, 62 years old in December 1996.
- Then Pell’s barrister Robert Richter QC grills the complainant about it being impossible for Pell to abuse him when Pell was in his robe.
- Then you as a jury member have to hear Portelli’s and Potter’s evidence again when Pell’s barrister sums up the defence.
So, you as a jury member listen to all this argument about Pell being unable to abuse the children because it was physically impossible to while he was wearing his priest’s robe. But at some stage, the court gives the jury the exact same robes to try on themselves and when you try on the robe you realize it was a lie.
You realize that Father Charles Portelli, who is now a Catholic priest, was lying while he was in the witness stand under oath. You realize that Maxwell Potter, who was Sacristan 1963–2001, was lying while he was in the witness stand under oath. You also realize that Pell’s barrister Robert Richter QC had to have known they were lying or didn’t care if they were or weren’t otherwise he’s not a very good barrister.
The flow-on effect of Charles Portelli and Maxwell Potter perjury
Charles Portelli’s and Maxwell Potter’s perjury would have also had an effect on the jury’s viewpoint on other key evidence they gave such as claiming they were with Pell almost all the time during Church so it would have been almost impossible for him to abuse the children. The credibility of anything and everything Pell’s barrister Robert Richter QC said would also have been questioned by the jury after the robe lie was exposed.
From reading the judgment it looks like the prosecution called Catholic Priest Charles Portelli and Maxwell Potter to give evidence but the perjured evidence they gave left no doubt they were supporting George Pell.
Pell’s legal team basically ran a defence that almost everything the victim said that happened was impossible or improbable. The problem is when the jury is being continually battered with one of the so-called impossibilities, the claim that the robe could not be pulled aside to allow the sexual abuse, and the jury know or find out later that it is possible then the jury is going to find it hard to believe any evidence from the defence. Especially any evidence supporting Pell from 2 key witnesses such as Father Charles Portelli and Maxwell Potter.
The appeal had 3 grounds and “The main ground was that the guilty verdicts are ‘unreasonable and cannot be supported having regard to the evidence’ (‘the unreasonableness ground’). Two other legal grounds were not given leave to appeal as they were frivolous.
(Picture from The Daily Mail – Click here for more)
Every priest in the world would have known that the robe defence was a lie and that at least two people had hopped in the witness stand and perjured themselves trying to defend George Pell.
The judgment summary said in part:
Part of Cardinal Pell’s case on the appeal was that there were 13 solid obstacles in the path of a conviction. The Chief Justice and Justice Maxwell rejected all 13. By way of example, one of the 13 ‘obstacles’ was said to be that the acts alleged to have been committed by Cardinal Pell in the first incident were ‘physically impossible’. The defence relied on categorical statements by Monsignor Portelli (the prefect of ceremonies to Cardinal Pell) and by Mr Potter (the sacristan) that it was not possible to pull the Cardinal’s robes to the side.
The robes were an exhibit at the trial and had been available to the jury in the jury room during their deliberation. Having taken advantage of the opportunity to feel the weight of the robes and assess their maneuverability as garments, the Chief Justice and Justice Maxwell decided that it was well open to the jury to reject the contention of physical impossibility. The robes were not so heavy nor so immovable as the evidence of Monsignor Portelli and Mr Potter had suggested. The Chief Justice and Justice Maxwell found that the robes were capable of being maneuvered in a way that might be described as being moved or pulled to one side or pulled apart.
Justice Mark Weinberg found differently:
In his dissenting judgment, Justice Weinberg found that, at times, the complainant was inclined to embellish aspects of his account. He concluded that his evidence contained discrepancies, displayed inadequacies, and otherwise lacked probative value so as to cause him to have a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt. He could not exclude as a reasonable possibility that some of what the complainant said was concocted, particularly in relation to the second incident. Justice Weinberg found that the complainant’s account of the second incident was entirely implausible and quite unconvincing. Nevertheless, Justice Weinberg stated that in relation to the first incident, if the complainant’s evidence was the only evidence, he might well have found it difficult to say that the jury, acting reasonably, were ‘bound’ to have a reasonable doubt about the Cardinal’s guilt. He went on to note, however, that there was more than just the complainant’s evidence. In Justice Weinberg’s view there was a significant body of cogent and, in some cases, impressive evidence suggesting that the complainant’s account was, in a realistic sense, ‘impossible’ to accept. To his mind, there is a significant possibility that the Cardinal may not have committed the offences. In those circumstances, Justice Weinberg stated that in his view the convictions could not stand.
Nevertheless, the appeal on the unreasonableness ground was dismissed because the other two judges took a different view of the facts. (Click here to read the full judgment summary) Full judgment: (Click here to read the full judgment)
The big problem with Justice Mark Weinberg’s dissenting judgment is that he had to ignore the blatant perjury by Father Charles Portelli and Maxwell Potter to come to the decision he did. I’ve written about Weinberg before and I have no doubt he wrote a judgment that was pre-determined long before he heard the appeal. Weinberg has attacked the victim, who everyone else found a credible witness, and he has also ignored the perjury of Portelli and Potter which the jury and the other 2 judges didn’t ignore otherwise they wouldn’t have found Pell guilty.
The Guardian reported:
“The jurors were diverse, and included a church pastor, a mathematician and a tram driver. Over four days of deliberating, they reached the same conclusion: that in 1996 Pell sexually assaulted two 13 year-old boys after Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in the priest’s sacristy. Pell orally raped one of the boys during this incident and indecently assaulted both of them. Pell offended a second time against one of the boys a month later, when he grabbed the boy’s genitals in a church corridor, once more after Sunday solemn mass. He was convicted on four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16 and one count of sexual penetration with a child under the age of 16.” (Click here to read more)
Not possible to ‘part’ the applicant’s robes – the transcript between Pell’s barrister Robert Richter QC and the complainant
MR RICHTER: So, he just moved his robes to the side and exposed his penis?
MR RICHTER: Yes. The next occasion on which you gave a description was on – sorry, you were challenged about this at the committal at p 98 and 99, Your Honour. What you said when I was cross–examining you, was this, at p 98, Point 5, I see. You said,
‘All I know is he was there in front of the door.’
Question: ‘Yes, and what did he do?’
Answer: ‘He approached us.’
Question: ‘Yes, and?’
Answer: ‘He pulled aside his robe.’
[Question:] ‘He what?’
[Answer:] ‘And he pulled out his penis.’
Question: ‘I’m sorry. You said he pulled aside his robe?’
Answer: ‘He pulled out his penis.’
[Question:] ‘No, no, no, you said he pulled aside his robe; didn’t you?’
Answer: ‘I said, yeah — he pulled his — he pulled something apart and revealed his penis.’
Now, were those questions asked and did you give those answers?
MR RICHTER: Were they true?
MR RICHTER: On the next page, you were asked this at 99.4 — at 99.1,
[Question:] ‘I suggest to you it’s impossible, I suggest, it’s impossible.’
And that was about pulling aside the robe and pulling out his penis.
‘It’s impossible, I’d suggest, it’s impossible.’
And you said:
[Answer:] ‘I think it’s possible for anyone to pull their penis out, if they want to.’
Question: ‘Did he have pants underneath his robes?’
Answer: ‘I’m not too sure.’
Now, that was what you said in March of this year at the preliminary hearing. Is that right?
MR RICHTER: Was it true?
MR RICHTER: Now, when it came to giving evidence on Friday before the jury, what you said was this:
‘He sort of planted himself in the doorway and said something to, ah, the lines like, ‘You’re in’ — you know, ‘What are you doing here?’ or ‘You’re in trouble’ or something like that. And then, yeah, there was this moment when we all just sort of froze. And then he undid his — his, ah — his trousers or his belt. Like, he started moving underneath his robes.’
Now, you just made that up, didn’t you, on Friday?
MR RICHTER: Because … when it came to the committal, you didn’t even know whether he had pants underneath his robes. Is that right?
MR RICHTER: When you say no, you mean you’re agreeing with me. You said you didn’t know. Is that correct?
COMPLAINANT: Ah, I could assume.
MR RICHTER: Sorry. (To witness) The question was:
‘Did he have pants underneath his robes?’
Answer: ‘I’m not too sure.’
MR RICHTER: Did you refer at committal to his undoing any pants?
COMPLAINANT: Um, I refer the whole – – –
MR RICHTER: Did you refer at committal to his undoing any pants?
COMPLAINANT: Um, yes.
MR RICHTER: Where? What did you say?
COMPLAINANT: Sorry? That he loosened — just — just what has been read. I said that it seemed like he was unfastening himself in that area, um, or unbuckling something.
MR RICHTER: You didn’t – – -?
COMPLAINANT: And I said it was his pants.
MR RICHTER: Did you refer to unbuckling something, did you?
COMPLAINANT: No. I — I was — the whole reason I was talking about that area was he was adjusting something in that area, and, um – – –
MR RICHTER: What you said was,
‘He pulled aside his robe.’
Then you said,
‘He pulled something apart and revealed his penis.’
Right? I can’t see a reference to pants or to belt. Correct?
MR RICHTER: So, the first time that you ever mention pants, ever mention pants and undoing a belt, is on Friday before this jury. Is that right?
COMPLAINANT: Yes, I — it must’ve been.
MR RICHTER: Yes, it was, you see. And that was something that you just invented when giving evidence because you knew that the robes could not be pulled aside?
MR RICHTER: You were challenged about the pulling aside of the robes, were you not, at the committal?
MR RICHTER: And it was put to you that your description was impossible with those robes. Correct?
COMPLAINANT: No. I disagree. I think you can pull robes aside if you want to.
MR RICHTER: No, no. Just listen to the question that was being put to you, that that was impossible with those robes to just pull them aside and expose a penis. That’s what was being put to you at the committal in March. Correct?
MR RICHTER: You appreciated, that having being put, that that created a problem for you, didn’t you?
COMPLAINANT: Ah, what problem?
MR RICHTER: Well, if he couldn’t push aside his robes, then your description of him pushing aside his robes and exposing a penis was impossible?
COMPLAINANT: He could push aside his robes. He did push aside his robes.
MR RICHTER: I see. And, what, there was an opening in the robes, was there?
COMPLAINANT: No. He created an opening by opening his robes.
Robert Richter QC is reportedly one of the best barristers in the country but his tactics backfired spectacularly. Richter should never have pushed hard about a lie like a robe being too heavy to be pulled aside when it could be easily checked which the jury and judges did.
George Pell’s application for special leave to the High Court of Australia is looking more and more like a long shot. If the High Court does decide to hear the matter I think it will only be to reinforce the guilty verdict and I don’t think they will hold back unloading on the perjury by Father Charles Portelli and Maxwell Potter.
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Categories: Cardinal George Pell