PUBLISHED: 17:38 EST, 5 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:36 EST, 5 July 2012
A jury acquitted a man Thursday of assaulting a priest he says molested him more than three decades ago during a camping trip and left him with tormented memories that led to alcohol abuse, depression and suicide attempts.
The verdict came after defendant William Lynch took the witness stand during the two-week trial and acknowledged punching Jerold Lindner several times on May 10, 2010.
While previously pleading not guilty, Lynch said he hoped to use the case to publicly shame Lindner and bring further attention to the Catholic Church clergy abuse scandal.
Battle: Supporters greet Lynch outside the courthouse. He says the priest raped him when he was seven
‘I honestly thought I was going to jail,’ Lynch said. ‘It turned out better than I expected.’
Steven Clark, a former prosecutor who watched most of the trial, called the verdict a rarity given that Lynch admitted the beating on the witness stand.
‘The DA’s office was in a very difficult position because they had to go forward with the case,’ Clark said. ‘They can’t allow vigilante justice to be ignored. But the DA’s office is not used to having pedophiles as victims.’
District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen said authorities understood the abuse and trauma suffered by Lynch. ‘And while we understand Mr. Lynch’s desire for revenge, we don’t condone it,’ Rosen said.
Lynch, 44, has said memories of the priest have tormented him for years, and he struggled through nightmares, divorce and other problems. He tried to commit suicide twice.
Prosecutors called Lynch a vigilante and implored the jury not to be swayed by his dramatic testimony describing the horrific ordeal he claims to have endured at the hands of Lindner.
‘Sick’: Rev. Jerold Lindner suffered bruises and required stitches after Lynch allegedly beat him up. Lynch said at least 12 people have come forward to claim they were abused by the Jesuit priest
Lynch countered in his testimony that he only wanted the priest to sign a confession and started punching Lindner after the retired priest ‘leered’ at him the same way he looked at Lynch in 1975 during the alleged molestation during a camping trip.
Priest abuse victims and their supporters contributed to Lynch’s defence fund and packed the courtroom every day for a trial.
Many carried picket signs outside the courthouse decrying the church abuse scandal.
Lynch refused to discuss a plea bargain with prosecutors, even when he was promised he could avoid prison and would serve no more than a year in exchange for a guilty plea.
Prosecutors said they were left with little choice but to take the case to trial and ask the jury to find Lynch guilty of felony assault and felony elder abuse. Lindner was 65 at the time of the beating.
Santa Clara County prosecutor Vicki Gemetti repeatedly told the jury of nine men and three women that she sympathized with Lynch and even conceded Lynch was molested.
But Gemetti insisted that even the most unsavoury of victims – drug dealers, wife beaters and child molesters – deserved equal protection under the law.
Lindner also testified and denied abusing Lynch. He later invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and would not testify further for fear of a perjury prosecution. The judge ordered Lindner’s testimony stricken from the record.
In a deposition in the late 1990s, Lindner said he didn’t recall Lynch, who received $625,000 in a 1998 confidential settlement with the Jesuits after alleging the abuse.
A jury has acquitted a man charged with assaulting a retired priest he says molested him more than three decades ago in California.
The jury of nine men and three women returned its verdict Thursday against William Lynch after starting deliberations Monday in San Jose.
‘Victim’: Lynch (pictured left and right, centre) said he was on a camping trip with Father Jerry when he was abused with his young brother (pictured right). They received a payout from the church in 1998
Prosecutors say Lynch acted as a vigilante when he pummeled Jerold Lindner with his fists in the 2010 attack. They said Lynch’s testimony about his alleged sexual abuse by Lindner was no excuse for beating up the priest years later.
Defense attorneys countered that it was not an act of revenge. Instead, they said Lynch wanted the priest to sign a confession and still felt threatened by him and the memories of the abuse.
Lindner denied on the witness stand that he molested Lynch.
The Lynches were raped in the woods and forced to commit sex acts on each other while Lindner watched, according to a civil lawsuit and the recent interview where Lynch detailed the abuse.
Lindner has been accused of abuse by nearly a dozen people, including his own sister and nieces and nephews, but was never criminally charged because the allegations were too old.
He has previously denied abusing the Lynch boys and said in a deposition from the late 1990s that he didn’t recall the siblings.
The brothers settled with the Jesuits of the California Province for $625,000 in 1998.