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Nun's Habit Sparks Court Controversy

March 16, 1987|United Press International

PHILADELPHIA — A judge today removed herself from a murder trial to avoid ruling on a motion to bar the victim's sister, a Roman Catholic nun, from wearing her habit in the courtroom.

Defense attorneys had sought to prevent Sister Ann Colleen Dougherty from appearing in court in her calf-length, blue-and-white habit, saying the obvious presence of a nun related to the victim might influence the jury.

Common Pleas Court Judge Juanita Stout indicated to lawyers in a private session Friday that she would rule on the defense's motion today, but she changed her mind after the issue came to public attention.

To Raise Issue

A second judge was appointed to preside over the trial beginning next Monday and Robert Simone, a lawyer for one of the four defendants, said he would again raise the issue of the habit before the new judge.

Sister Dougherty, 30, a member of the Sisters and Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a religious order that forbids nuns from wearing street clothes, has said repeatedly she has no intention of removing her habit.

"I'm not allowed to remove my habit. It's not even an option for me," she said. "How can I, as the victim's sister, be removed from the courtroom?"

Her brother, Thomas Dougherty, was stabbed to death in February, 1984.

A 1985 trial for the four men accused of the murder ended in a mistrial. Sister Dougherty attended that trial dressed in her nun's habit, despite the objections of defense lawyers.

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