By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than 35 years after William Lynch says he and his little brother were molested by a priest during a camping trip in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he will get his longtime wish to face the aging Jesuit in court for the first time. But it is Lynch who is going on trial.
Lynch, now 44, faces felony charges of assault and elder abuse after prosecutors say he beat the Rev. Jerold Lindner in front of startled witnesses at a retirement home for priests. In the months since his arrest, Lynch has refused to discuss a plea deal and has grown intent on using his own legal trouble to try Lindner in the court of public opinion in a potentially explosive proceeding likely to include testimony from Lynch, the priest and several more of his alleged victims.
Opening statements begin Wednesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, where several other victims are expected to attend. Lynch faces up to four years in prison if convicted on all charges.
The judge overseeing the case recently ruled that Lynch's lawyer can ask the priest about Lynch's allegations during cross-examination. If Lindner denies the accusations, attorney Pat Harris can call up to three other witnesses who claim they were also molested by Lindner as children, including Lynch's younger brother.
The Lynchs, who were 7 and 4 at the time, were raped in the woods and forced to have oral sex with each other while Lindner watched, according to a civil lawsuit. 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.
Lindner hung up Monday when The Associated Press called him for comment. 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.
Getting Lindner into court — even as a victim — has helped Lynch find the peace of mind he's been searching for his whole life, he said.
"I don't want to go to jail but I've come to realize that this whole thing is really bigger than me and the way that I've chosen to handle this is to make a statement," Lynch told the AP. "I'm prepared to take responsibility for anything I've been involved in. I'm willing to do it. I think it's a small sacrifice to get Father Jerry into court."
The priest will likely testify at the trial, but Lynch's attempt to shame and expose Lindner is misguided, said Deputy District Attorney Vicki Gemetti.
Even if the molestation allegations are true, the judge's order only allows the defense to ask general questions about sexual abuse for the purpose of challenging Lindner's credibility as a witness. Other defense witnesses who allege abuse by the priest can't be questioned about specific details that could inflame the jury.
"What the jury needs to be deciding is did an assault take place? There might be sympathetic reasons for an assault, but yes, it's an assault," Gemetti said. "The victim is not squeaky clean but that doesn't change the fact that you can't take the law into your own hands."
It's unlikely testimony about Lynch's abuse allegations could tip the case in his favor — but not impossible, said Jody Armour, a professor at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law who specializes in criminal law and social justice issues.
Jurors will have to be reminded not to be swayed by their prejudices or by any sympathy they may feel for Lynch.
"These are some of the toughest cases in criminal law," Armour said. "Even though that jury will be told, 'Don't think about this, this is not evidence, it just goes to credibility,' how are people going to keep those two things separate in their mind?"
There have been several other instances of violence, sometimes fatal, against priests accused of abuse since the Roman Catholic clergy abuse scandal unfolded in 2002.
In Baltimore, a man who claimed he was sodomized and fondled by a priest a decade earlier shot the clergyman three times in 2002 after the priest told him to go away when he demanded an apology. The defendant was acquitted of attempted murder but served 18 months of home detention on a gun conviction.