Trial begins for San Franciso man accused of beating South Bay priest

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Posted: 05/03/2012 07:53:44 AM PDT

May 3, 2012 3:18 PM GMTUpdated: 05/03/2012 08:18:17 AM PDT

By Tracey Kaplan

Attorney Pat Harris, right, makes a statement on behalf of Will Lynch, left, at… ( Gary Reyes )

The San Francisco man accused of beating up an elderly Los Gatos priest he says molested him when he was a child was not a berserk vigilante hellbent on revenge.

Instead, his lawyer asserts, Will Lynch suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and acted out of self-defense during a confrontation with the priest he contends physically tortured him and forced him to have sex with his brother more than three decades ago.

In a closely watched assault case, that ambitious defense will be used by Lynch’s attorneys to defend him against charges involving the Rev. Jerold Lindner, whom the Jesuits have acknowledged is on a list of molesters living at the Sacred Heart retirement and medical center in Los Gatos.

Prosecutors contend that on May 10, 2010, Lynch tracked down Lindner by pretending to be someone else, and met with him in a private guest parlor at the center on College Avenue. In a fit of rage, they say, Lynch, then 43, allegedly pummeled Lindner, who was 65, while demanding at the top of his lungs, “Turn yourself in or I’ll (expletive) come back and kill you.” Lindner suffered multiple bruises and required stitches to close two cuts above his left eye and left ear.

Lynch’s pretrial hearing next week before Superior Court Judge David A. Cena will involve battles over how much the jury will get to hear about several key issues, including allegations that Lynch long fostered a desire to hurt the priest, and that Lindner sexually molested nearly a dozen people, including his own sister, brother and niece.

Lindner was removed from active ministry in Los Angeles in 1997 in response to a civil suit filed by Lynch that year. The Jesuits paid Lynch and his brother, who were 7 and 5 at the time of the alleged abuse, a $625,000 settlement.

The priest cannot be prosecuted in Lynch’s case because the alleged molestation took place in the 1970s. By the time Lynch reported it about 20 years later, the six-year statute of limitations in effect at the time of the alleged abuse had elapsed.

No deal

The case comes at a time when the Catholic Church has begun to publicly accept responsibility for the sexual abuse of children by clerics, amid recent revelations about extensive cover-ups in Europe.

Lynch 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.

Lynch apparently could have negotiated a deal for court probation and up to a year in county jail. But he has said he wants atrial so he can more publicly raise awareness about clergy abuse.

Pat Harris, Lynch’s attorney, would not elaborate on the PTSD and self-defense strategy he alluded to in his motion, including what the priest allegedly did to prompt Lynch to defend himself.

But, he said, “Our position is, this is a misguided prosecution. They’ve arrested the wrong person.”

PTSD has mixed success as a criminal defense. It is more common for it to figure in a judge’s sentencing decision.

Prosecutor Vicki Gemetti also declined to comment, but has said of the case, “Our laws exist to protect all members of society, regardless of who the victim is.”

Legal experts say thatfor Lynch to have acted in self-defense, he would have had to “reasonably” believe he was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or being touched unlawfully.

He’d also have to believe that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger. And he’d have to have used no more force than was “reasonably necessary” to defend against that danger.

However, the danger doesn’t actually need to have existed, and jurors may consider whether the priest threatened or harmed Lynch in the past in deciding whether Lynch’s conduct was reasonable. Under the law, someone who has been threatened or harmed in the past is justified in acting more quickly or taking greater self-defense measures against the person.

But Lynch does not have the right to self-defense if he provoked a fight or quarrel with the intent to create an excuse to use force.

Range of evidence

Gemetti wants Cena to limit evidence that Lynch had been molested to the number of incidents and date ranges of those incidents, and not include potentially prejudicial details.

She also wants the judge to exclude evidence of others Lindner allegedly molested on the grounds the defense is “merely trying to assassinate the character of the victim and suggest somehow he deserved the beating.”

On the other hand, the prosecutor argues that Cena should admit a potentially incriminating statement Lynch made in a 2002 article about the alleged sexual abuse by Lindner in the Los Angeles Times. Lynch said, “Many times I thought of driving down to L.A. and confronting Father Jerry, I wanted to exorcise all of the rage and anger and bitterness he put into me.” To help establish motive and Lynch’s identity as the assailant, Gemetti also stated she wants to call as a witness the former L.A. Times reporter who wrote the article, and severely limit his testimony.

But Harris contends the jury cannot get a clear picture of Lynch’s state of mind if the evidence of “why he has suffered all these years” is not clearly presented.

“If the prosecution has its way,” Harris argues, “the jury will essentially hear that some random stranger planned and executed an attack on a poor unsuspecting retired priestfor absolutely no reason while screaming something about having sex with his brother.”

Even if Cena agrees with Gemetti, the jury will likely see protest signs carried outside the courthouse by demonstrators who are angry about Lindner’s alleged crimes. As a matter of routine, the judge will instruct the jury to decide the case just on the evidence in court.

But the allegations against the priest are “the elephant in the room — that fills the room,” said defense attorney Charles Smith, a former prosecutor. “They can’t sequester the jury.”

2 Responses to Trial begins for San Franciso man accused of beating South Bay priest

  1. Sylvia says:

    *They really do need to get rid of the statute of limitations in the States so that predators  can at the very least be legally identified for what they are.  I don’t for a moment advocate victims taking justice into their own hands, but I realize too that there has to be a terrible frustration for victims who can not have charges laid because the statute of limitations has expired.  That coupled with the fact that a victim sees that Church officials consider his molester is still fit to be a priest must be awfully hard to take.  I think the latter is a source of anger and frustration for many a victim.

  2. deeplybetrayed says:

    *Absolutely, totally frustrating for us to even read,  how much more for this man who experienced the torture and forced to abuse his brother to give joy to the priest.
    Any good man with any emotions left would do the same thing when a criminal gets away with it.

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