Published: July 1, 2013
The father of a former altar boy who says a Colorado Springs priest molested him questioned his son's veracity in court Monday, calling him "untruthful" and telling a jury: "I don't always believe him."
The father's frank and potentially damaging assessment of the now 18-year-old accuser's credibilty came as attorneys for the Rev. Charles Robert "Bob" Manning, 78, began their defense in a case pitting one man's word against the other's.
Manning, who retired from St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church in Colorado Springs in the wake of the allegations against him, has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault on a child, which his attorneys have dismissed as fabrications by the former altar server.
Whether the father's testimony helped shape the jury's thinking may soon be clear: Deliberations are expected to begin Tuesday or Wednesday.
Manning's father was called as the defense's second witness, and in a twist from routine he appeared via the online video service Skype.
To facilitate the testimony, Judge Robin Chittum briefly relocated court to a room capable of hosting the video conferencing.
During a five-minute appearance broadcast on a projector screen, the man, who lives out of state, was asked about his 2003 divorce from the accuser's mother and said he kept up a relationship with his son partly through phone calls "every other week."
The accuser also lived with his father for 10 months in 2012, during which time his allegations against Manning became public. According to earlier testimony, the boy left his father's home suddenly, without telling him he had booked a return flight to Colorado.
Asked by attorney Richard Bednarski asked about his son's "truthfulness," the father replied, "I don't always believe him."
When Bednarski followed up and asked if his son was more "truthful or untruthful," he said: "I would say untruthful."
The man acknowledged under cross-examination by a prosecutor that his divorce from the teenager's mother wasn't "cordial," and he said he had last spoken with his son in August or September 2012 - an answer he quickly revised.
"Maybe February was the last time I talked to him," he added. Neither side asked him to elaborate about his concerns over his son's credibility.
Before resting their case early Thursday, prosecutors called a police detective who lives in the father's state and who interviewed the boy about his allegations after they went public through one of his friends, who reported the abuse to Colorado Springs police.
The detective said she confronted the boy with a photo of an exposed penis that Colorado Springs police found on Manning's computer, which they seized during the investigation.
The boy identified himself as the person in the photo, she said, which a Colorado Springs police detective previously said looked as though it had been taken in Manning's home.
"It was complete shock," she said of the boy's reaction. "Almost literally jaw-dropping."
Defense attorneys have mostly avoided the image in questioning, except to point out that the boy had access to Manning's computer and knew all his passwords during his frequent visits the rectory.
The elderly priest began spending time with the boy when he was 14 and sent an email to St. Gabriel expressing an interest in Catholicism.
Prosecutors allege Manning supplied the then 16-year-old with booze and pot the day he coaxed him to perform sex acts at the priest's rectory, or home provided by the church. In denying the allegations, defense attorneys say Manning looked on the boy as a grandson and that his only "mistake" was allowing the boy to smoke pot in his presence.
Manning's attorney have focused on the boy's disciplinary problems and picked at inconsistencies in his accounts of the abuse, while prosecutors called an expert to testify that such differences are common after traumatic episodes.
Another defense witness, Chris Phelps, a deacon at St. Gabriel's, testified that he didn't see inappropriate behavior by Manning toward the boy, echoing similar statements earlier in Manning's trial by others who attend the church.
The defense said it expects to call two more witnesses Tuesday morning, and the case could be in the jury's hands by the end of the day.