Philly Jesus, who's not a member of any particular congregation, calls the Love Statue his church.

So many people wanted to offer support to Philly Jesus. As he waited outside a courtroom at the Criminal Justice Center today, a man sporting a fedora, plaid button-down shirt and thigh-hugging Starter gym shorts told him how “messed up” it was he had to stand trial. A woman came and said she’d watch.

His lawyer, Brian Zeiger, especially wanted to comfort him.

“Be blessed,” he said  “and just hang here and chill.”

Zeiger told Philly Jesus he was more than 50 percent sure the charges of trespass and disorderly conduct stemming from an incident in the spring at the Apple Store would be dismissed. He didn’t give an exact number — he wasn’t sure if that “means 51 percent” — but Zieger was sort of clear. He thought the charges would be dismissed.

But that’s not how it ended for Philly Jesus, whose real name is Michael Grant. Judge Craig Washington found him guilty of defiant trespass and not guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced him to three months of probation. Philly Jesus turned down a plea deal before trial that would’ve essentially made the charges disappear.  

“I’m innocent,” Philly Jesus said afterward. “The Son of Man is innocent.”

Zeiger and Philly Jesus plan to appeal the decision. They want Philly Jesus’ case brought in front of a Philly jury.

He was on trial today because of a May incident at the Apple Store. Manager Sean Dobbs said Philly Jesus rested his cross against a table in the store, blocking the walkway. Dobbs said he asked Philly Jesus to move it, to which Philly Jesus replied he was not going to leave. A few minutes later, Dobbs confronted him again. This time, Dobbs said, Philly Jesus said the only way he’d leave is if police arrested him and gave a handcuffing motion with his hands.  So they did.

Throughout the proceedings, the cross was a central issue. The prosecutor, Noel Walton, asked Dobbs, “could you describe the cross?”

“It was a typical cross,” he said. “About what you’d expect it to be.”

Zeiger asked a police officer called as a prosecution witness whether he had catalogued the cross as evidence. The officer said he had catalogued it. But Zeiger countered that no evidence number for the cross had been entered as part of discovery. So did the cross even exist? Was a conviction possible if the cross wasn’t provided as evidence in the courtroom?   

“It doesn’t have to be here in all its eight-foot glory,” Walton said, “to recognize it existed.”

After that, Zeiger relented: “I’m not saying the cross doesn’t exist.”

Philly Jesus’ defense essentially consisted of arguing he didn’t do enough to cause a disruption at the Apple Store. Dobbs testified Philly Jesus yelled about his rights, but the scene didn’t lead to any business problems for Apple for the day. As far as the trespass, Zeiger compared Philly Jesus’ situation to a case involving a neighbor’s “swimming hole.” It didn’t work.

Zeiger did not call any witnesses. Philly Jesus said he wanted to testify but Zeiger advised him against it. He didn’t say anything during the proceedings, not even when Washington asked if he had anything to say after the conviction.

Afterward, Philly Jesus said he has forgiven Apple (“I love them. I love my enemies”) and planned to spend the rest of the day spreading love. Maybe he’ll have the cross with him. He’s continued carrying it around town, including on SEPTA buses and subways.

But not in the Apple Store. He hasn’t brought the cross back there since.   

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...