WATERTOWN — Michael McCawley is glad to be back to his everyday life. He’s at his Thursday night bowling league at Watertown North Bowl — and he’s winning, throwing a 184 that included five strikes over the course of an interview.
But a week before, McCawley’s day-to-day was far from ordinary. The 36-year-old was one of the jurors in the trial of former Fort Atkinson priest William Nolan, who had been accused of molesting a middle-school aged altar boy around 2007.
McCawley, and the other 11 jurors, returned a verdict of not guilty.
In between tossing an impressive amount of strikes and a poker game with his buddies — which he also won, beating a four-card flush with his full house — McCawley explained why he thought Nolan was innocent and why the state didn’t prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
“I don’t even know how it made it to trial,” McCawley said. “There was no proof; there was nothing. Besides ‘this guy did this to me,’ there was nothing.”
There was no specific piece of evidence that sealed it for McCawley, just a general lack of solid proof, he said.
“Everything was fishy to me,” McCawley said. “(The accuser) not being able to identify the markings on his body. I’m still curious how it made it to trial.”
For five days in the Jefferson County Courthouse, McCawley listened as a parade of witnesses testified. He listened as Nolan took the stand and he listened as the accuser testified for nearly five hours.
McCawley said he thought there were a lot of issues with the accuser’s testimony, most notably his general demeanor and the few times defense attorney Jonas Bednarek caught him in lies.
“He was very animated,” McCawley said. “He apologized a lot, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ What are you apologizing for? You’re apologizing if you’re doing something wrong; it’s like a child.”
In a criminal trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and McCawley said the accuser’s testimony — which was the crux of the state’s case — wasn’t enough to prove Nolan’s guilt.
“Going into the trial I had a completely open mind,” McCawley said. “He was very unconvincing. It just seemed like a child lying to an adult.”
While the accuser’s testimony put doubt into McCawley’s mind, Nolan’s testimony — the last witness on the last day — and his actions while on the stand, helped seal it, McCawley said.
McCawley said he tried to put Nolan’s speaking ability in the back of his mind and just listen for the truth.
“He is a public speaker, so that I put behind me,” McCawley said. “A lot of other people on the jury were, like, ‘he was well spoken,’ but he’s a public speaker. How he answered the questions, his actions, his mannerisms — I’m looking for the right word — he seemed like he was telling the truth.”
During the trial, when Bednarek said Nolan was going to testify, a wave of shock went through the courtroom gallery. McCawley, from his seat in the juror’s box, said he was feeling the same thing.
“To tell you the truth, I can’t answer for all the other jurors, but for me, I was very surprised that he went up there (on the stand),” McCawley said. “Someone who is guilty isn’t typically going to go up there. That wasn’t my deciding factor — but it definitely helped.”
In the end, McCawley added up the accuser’s lies in his past and on the stand, Nolan’s testimony and one big piece of evidence — the accuser’s inability to identify significant markings on Nolan’s body.
Nolan had two major scars from open-heart surgery he underwent in his twenties and a large skin tag on his groin.
“It was multiple times with him lying on the stand,” McCawley said. “But the major thing was when the detective asked him if he had any identifying body features. He said he has a hairy chest and (described his genitals) — well, I guess that’s the majority of men in the United States.”
McCawley, again and again, said the state just had no real proof and the defense knew Nolan was telling the truth.
“The defense attorney, it was a game for him because he knew he had it,” McCawley said. “There was no proof. That’s the problem:There was no burden of proof whatsoever. That was the reasonable doubt we had — there was no proof.”
McCawley, who served in the U.S. Marines, said that helped guide him when he was making his decision.
“Common-sense,” McCawley said. “You just pay attention to detail. The state had no detail, but the fact is the defense had detail.”
Because of the personal nature of this trial, from the emotional testimony to the discussion and photos of Nolan’s body the jury saw, McCawley said he feels a connection with Nolan.
“I feel bad for Father Nolan because we all had to look at that,” McCawley said. “I feel like I know this man personally, but I’ve never met him. His life is ruined; he lost his job. His life should not be ruined because of an accusation.”
McCawley didn’t want to get into the specific details of the jury deliberations to “respect” their privacy, but he said all his fellow jurors were great.
“All the jurors I served with were outstanding people, great people, smart,” McCawley said.
The deliberations took four hours, and McCawley said that was because there were a few people who were undecided.
“We had to go over the laws and we had a couple jurors who were on the fence,” McCawley said. “We went over all the laws in the instructions and obviously we came to a unanimous vote. But some of them had to be convinced.”
While jury duty often is made fun of as an annoyance, McCawley said he had a good experience and would do it again because of how Jefferson County treated them and how sobering it was to be deciding such an important case.
“I was very pleased with the court; they were great people,” McCawley said. “It was a good experience. Would I do it again? Yeah, absolutely. This man was looking at basically life for him. You’ve got to take that seriously; we all had this man’s life in our hands. It’s no joke. I know a lot of people who have had jury duty, but not like this.”
McCawley wondered how the stars aligned for him to end up in the jury box, but said he was glad to get back to work. He said he’d just started a new job and had to miss his second week for the trial.
“Why’d they pick me?” McCawley said. “I still have my job.”
McCawley said he hoped Nolan could get back to his normal life. Then he went back to his ... into the bowling alley to keep taking his friends’ money and beating them on the lanes.