By PAUL ELIAS Associated Press
SAN JOSE, Calif. July 3, 2012 (AP)
Jury deliberations were set to resume Tuesday in the trial of William Lynch, charged with beating Jesuit priest Jerold Lindner at a San Francisco Bay Area retirement homes decades after the priest allegedly abused Lynch.
Lynch, who is accused of pummeling Lindner with his fists in the May 10, 2010, attack, was called a “vigilante” by prosecutor Vicki Gemetti as she implored jurors to convict him of felony assault and elder abuse during closing arguments Monday.
Gemetti told jurors that Lynch’s testimony about his alleged abuse by Lindner was no excuse for beating up the priest 37 years later.
She also stressed that Lynch acknowledged hitting the priest multiple times.
“It was compelling, moving and emotional,” Gemetti said of Lynch’s testimony. “But he admitted his crime. He admitted his actions.”
Gemetti also pointed out that Lynch put on gloves before entering Sacred Heart Jesuit Center and told Lindner to take off his glasses before striking him. She displayed several photographs of a bloodied, bruised Lindner that were taken by police a few hours later.
“This man was pummeled,” Gemetti said, noting that everyone deserves justice. “People are prosecuted for robbing their drug dealer. … Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Defense attorney Paul Mones told jurors it was not an act of revenge. Instead, Lynch still felt threatened by Lindner and his memories of the abuse that Mones called torture.
Those “threats were with him up to May 10, 2010,” the lawyer said.
Lynch claims Lindner abused him in a tent during a 1975 camping trip. The Catholic Church paid $625,000 to settle a lawsuit involving the claim.
Lynch testified during the trial that he only wanted Lindner to sign a written confession but turned to violence after feeling threatened by the demeanor of the priest.
Meanwhile, Lindner was last seen in court more than a week ago, scurrying down a back staircase as a woman demanded he look her in the eye while she accused him of sexual assault.
Lindner also took the witness stand and denied abusing Lynch. Proceedings ended for the day a short time later.
The next day, Lindner’s attorney notified the court that his client was invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and would not testify further for fear of a perjury prosecution.
The judge ordered Lindner’s previous testimony stricken from the trial record and told jurors to ignore what the former priest had said.
Lindner, unaware of the court’s orders, was verbally accosted by Debbie Lukas on June 21, as he tried to enter the courtroom.
“Look me in the eye,” she screamed at Lindner, who was hustled down the stairway and hasn’t returned since.
Pat Harris, another defense attorney, asked the jury why Lindner was allowed to lie about abusing Lynch. He contended the retired priest was seeking his own brand of revenge by denying abuse took place.
“Does that strike anyone as strange?” Harris asked.
The morning session ended abruptly when prosecutors accused Harris of urging jurors to use their power of “nullification” to acquit Lynch. Jurors are allowed to acquit defendants they believe to be technically guilty but don’t deserve punishment.
However, defense attorneys are not allowed to argue for that verdict, and Gemetti objected when Harris began telling jurors they have the power to keep overzealous prosecutors in check.
Judge David Cena sent jurors to an early lunch to consider whether Harris could keep discussing prosecutorial discretion during his closing argument. The jury is expected to begin deliberations later in the day or early Tuesday.
Lynch could face up to four years in prison if convicted.
Powerful, emotional closing arguments in priest-beating case
02 July 2012
By Tracey Kaplan
Will Lynch’s trial on charges of beating priest begins
Will Lynch leaves the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice for the day in San Jose, Calif. on Monday, July 2, 2012.Jurors may soon begin deciding the fate of Will Lynch, who is accused of assaulting Rev. Jerold Lindner two years ago at the Sacred Heart retirement home in Los Gatos, where Lindner is listed as a child molester. (Lauren Purkey/Staff)
In a powerful closing argument, the prosecutor in the priest-beating case urged jurors to convict a San Francisco man of assault, even though they may sympathize with him because he says the cleric sexually abused him as a child.
But the defense countered even more passionately, asking the Santa Clara County jury to acquit him because the wrong man was on trial.
Late Monday, the nine men and three women on the jury began deciding the fate of Will Lynch, who is accused of assaulting the Rev. Jerold Lindner two years ago at the Sacred Heart retirement home in Los Gatos, where Lindner is listed as a child molester.
Lynch alleges Lindner sexually molested him and his 4-year-old brother more than 35 years ago. Because the statute of limitations had ended when Lynch and other alleged victims came forward with the allegations, Lindner never faced any criminal charges.
In her 45-minute closing argument, prosecutor Vicki Gemetti acknowledged the sympathy Lynch invokes, but she reminded jurors of a basic principle from their youth.
“This case is as simple as what we learned as small children from our mom, ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right,’ ” Gemetti said.
Pat Harris, Lynch’s lead attorney, said the case at worst should be a simple misdemeanor, not two felonies as the prosecution is pursuing.
“The DA says no man is above the law, but there is one man who has been above the law, who sits in a vineyard, with medical care and cars,” Harris said, referring to Lindner.
Lynch alleges Lindner sexually molested Lynch and his brother in the 1970s during a camping trip sponsored by a religious group.
Without acknowledging wrongdoing, the Jesuits paid Lynch and his brother about $187,000 each after legal fees to settle a lawsuit they filed claiming Lindner had raped Lynch and made him have oral sex with his brother. The order also paid another camper more than $1.5 million to settle her lawsuit. In 2007, Lindner’s niece sued the order for the priest sexually abusing her as a child and settled for $786,000.
Lynch, now 44, faces a maximum of four years in prison if he is convicted of the attack on Lindner, which left the priest bruised and bloody, and with a cut above his left eye requiring stitches. Lynch chose to go to trial rather than negotiate a plea deal for no more than a year in jail because he wanted to “out” the priest and expose clergy sex abuse.
Gemetti said the evidence supported felony convictions rather than the lesser misdemeanors that the jury has the option of considering. Lynch admitted in court he hit Lindner more than twice in the head, which the prosecutor compared to blows in a boxing match. As she spoke, a photo of Muhammad Ali punching an opponent flashed on a screen in the courtroom.
“What it’s really about is holding the defendant responsible, even when we understand his motive, even when we are sympathetic to what he has gone through, even when we wish we could hold Lindner responsible for all the pain he caused,” Gemetti said.
Lynch testified he didn’t go to Sacred Heart to pummel Lindner, but did so after the priest “leered” at him the same way he did during the alleged molestation decades ago.
But Gemetti insisted Lynch was seeking revenge and painted him as a vigilante.
“Our system may not be perfect, but to act outside the law erodes it even further,” Gemetti said.
In his closing statement, Harris said the prosecution had a choice, but decided to “overcharge the case” by filing felonies in a case where “the damage was less than a 10-second bar fight.”
There is a defense to that “overzealous” decision by the prosecution, Harris said — “you,” looking at the jurors.
Harris said the injuries were minor or moderate — not “significant or substantial.”
Gemetti, however, said the jury must decide if Lynch used force likely to cause great bodily injury, not whether the resulting wounds were serious or life-threatening.
Paul A. Mones, Lynch’s other defense attorney, said the harm Lindner did to his client was far worse.
“The deplorable truth is Jerold Lindner committed rape, forcible sodomy and made threats to his (Lynch’s) life and his family,” Mones said.
The prosecution acts like Lynch is “some kind of modern-day Dirty Harry,” but he is only someone who was trying to purge the “ghosts of his youth” when he went to confront Lindner verbally and get him to sign a confession, Mones said.
Harris followed up by saying that Lynch “did what the police would not do, what prosecutors would not, what the Catholic Church would not do.”
“He’s the only reason the children of Los Gatos” know about Lindner and “are safe.”
The arguments also focused on whether Lynch knew or should have known Lindner was 65, the minimum age for a crime to be elder abuse. Gemetti said Lynch should have known because Lindner was older than Lynch at the time of the alleged molestation and was living in a retirement home.
Harris said Lynch had no idea how old Lindner was. The priest had been “retired” from active duty for “his extracurricular activities,” Harris said sarcastically, after the Lynch brothers settled their lawsuit against him in 1998. Also, Lindner has been living at the retirement home since he was 54, well before he turned 65.
In her rebuttal, Gemetti tried hard to steer the jury away from “nullification” — when a panel acquits a defendant despite evidence of guilt because it believes a conviction would be unjust. Defense attorneys in California cannot ask the jury to do that directly, even though it is legal for the jury to nullify.
“(Lynch) is not some kind of hero or Robin Hood,” Gemetti said. “He’s a man with a void. He filled it with anger, with rage. And now he’s asking you to vindicate his action. You can’t.”
But Harris said Lynch acted out of “dual motives” — a selfish need to confront his abuser and a genuine desire to protect the community, and asked the jury to consider the circumstances, including what happened decades ago.
Then in a parting shot, he added, “And they want to put this man in jail?”
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.