MercuryNews.com (Silicon Valley)
Posted: 06/20/2012 07:56:05 PM PDT
Updated: 06/21/2012 05:18:23 AM PDT
By Tracey Kaplan
For someone essentially described as a sexually deviant monster — even by the prosecutor who called him to the stand Wednesday — Father Jerold Lindner looked like an average 67-year-old with horn-rimmed glasses and a weight problem as he shuffled into a San Jose courtroom, all eyes upon him.
Lindner was there to testify that he did nothing to provoke Will Lynch to viciously beat him up two years ago at a Jesuit retirement center in Los Gatos, leaving him bruised and with two small cuts requiring stitches. But it was tough to tell on the first day of Lynch’s assault trial just who the real culprit was — Lynch or the priest.
Lynch chose to go to trial rather than negotiating a plea deal so he could “out” Lindner, who he claims molested him and his brother when they were kids. Even though the Jesuits have doled out millions of dollars to settle cases brought by Lindner’s victims — including the Lynch brothers — the priest was never prosecuted because Lynch and others reported the abuse after the brief window of opportunity set by the statute of limitations ended.
So essentially the priest testified Wednesday that he did nothing 35 years ago or in 2010 to incite what he described as a “vicious” beating at Lynch’s hands. Lynch dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief and sobbed while the priest testified.
The cleric said he was tricked into meeting Lynch on May 20, 2010, in a small guest parlor at his residence, the Sacred Heart retirement and medical center.
Lynch allegedly got into the center by using a pseudonym and pretending he needed to notify the priest of a death in the family. The priest testified that Lynch immediately asked if the older man recognized him. Lindner said he didn’t.
Lindner said Lynch then told him to take off his glasses and immediately began landing “stinging” blows on his face, arm and head, as well as kicking him once in the inner thigh.
Priest was “stunned”
“I think he was aiming for my groin,” Lindner said.
The first punch was “a vicious blow, major impact,” he testified. “I was stunned. I had no idea what was happening.”
Lindner testified that Lynch set out to beat him and that the younger man did not accuse him of sodomizing him and forcing him to have oral sex with his brother until after he began the attack.
Prosecutor Vicki Gemetti then asked the question many in the courtroom who knew the priest from decades ago and came to mistrust him were waiting for. The purported molestation of the brothers occurred on camping trips in the Santa Cruz Mountains organized by a religious group of families.
“Did you molest the defendant?” when he was 7, prosecutor Gemetti asked.
No, the priest said.
“Did you molest his (4-year-old) brother?”
Again, the answer came quickly: No.
The exchange was all the more strange because Gemetti had said unequivocally in her opening statement Wednesday morning that Lindner had molested the brothers in the mid-1970s. However, she said Lynch “acted like a vigilante” and still deserved to be convicted.
Gemetti even predicted that the priest — her lead witness — would give untruthful testimony.
“I expect he will lie to you,” she told the jury, referring to what Lindner might say about the alleged molestation of the Lynches. “Or say he doesn’t remember.”
Lynch’s attorney, Pat Harris, strongly reacted to Lindner’s denial.
“He has chosen to perjure himself,” Harris said to Judge David A. Cena after the jurors were dismissed for the day. “He should be advised of his right to counsel.”
Gemetti told Cena that Lindner already has a lawyer who came to court with him. But Harris said the judge should warn him on the record that he may indeed need the lawyer. The judge said he’d take that recommendation under consideration.
Lynch, now 44, is charged with two felonies that together carry a maximum sentence of four years — assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury and also elder abuse under circumstances likely to produce great bodily harm or death.
Harris will have an opportunity Thursday to cross-examine the priest. In his opening statement, he signaled his line of attack — casting doubt on Lindner’s credibility.
“The evidence is going to show that only two men know what happened in the room that day,” he told the jury. “One of them, the prosecutor already told you, is probably going to lie.”
In another sign that both men are essentially being tried in the court of public opinion, about 30 protesters marched in support of Lynch at noon, bearing signs that read, “Jail Father Jerry,” “Sacred Heart Jesuit Center: Pedophile Playground” and “Help Free Willy.”
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.