By TERRY COLLINS, Associated Press
SAN JOSE, California (AP) — There was never any doubt that William Lynch throttled the priest. Lynch even conceded as much the moment he took the witness stand.
But a jury acquitted Lynch of felony assault and elder abuse on Thursday, bringing a stunning conclusion to Lynch's 37-year desire to confront the priest he says molested him in a tent on a 1975 camping trip.
"I honestly thought I was going to jail," Lynch said. "It turned out better than I expected."
Lynch said that he regretted resorting to violence, but called on victims of molestation to come forward and report the abuse.
"I was wrong for doing what I did," Lynch said after the verdict was announced. "In doing that I perpetuated the cycle of violence."
Lynch's case garnered national attention for his attempts to use the trial to call attention to the Catholic Church abuse scandal.
"Violence is always wrong," said Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Still, we are grateful for this verdict."
During the closely watched trial, prosecutors called Lynch, 44, a vigilante and implored the jury not to be swayed by his dramatic testimony describing the horrific ordeal he claims to have endured.
Jurors told the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News that Lynch's detailed claims of abuse at the hands of Jerold Lindner weighed heavily in their decision, despite prosecutors' pleas to focus solely on the afternoon of May 10, 2010 when Lynch punched Lindner several times.
The jury did split 8-4 to convict Lynch of misdemeanor assault. Santa Clara District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen said he is deciding whether to pursue another trial on the less-serious charge that could result in a one-year jail sentence. Lynch faced four years in prison if convicted of the felonies.
"Mr. Lynch drove 50 miles, used a fake name, put on gloves and beat up and bloodied an elderly man," Rosen said. "We charged Mr. Lynch for the crimes that he committed."
Supporters of defendant William Lynch openly wept and hugged in the courtroom as the verdicts were read. Later, Lynch and his two attorneys emerged from the courthouse to a rousing cheer.
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."
Lynch countered 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 during the alleged molestation during a 1975 camping trip.
Lynch previously declined a plea bargain and said he hoped to use the case to publicly shame Lindner and bring further attention to the Catholic Church clergy abuse scandal. Lynch has said memories of the priest have tormented him for years, and he struggled through alcohol abuse, nightmares, divorce and other problems. He tried to commit suicide twice.
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.
Pat Harris, another defense attorney, called on the district attorney to prosecute the priest for perjury.
"Lindner is not beyond justice," Harris said. "He perjured himself and let's see them put him in jail."
On Thursday, Lynch said the verdict would help him heal.
"This has brought me a certain closure. I found a voice that I didn't have. I've become empowered," Lynch said. "I feel like I can have some peace and get on with my life."
He called on other abuse victims to come forward and tell their story.
The jury began deliberations late Monday and spent all day Tuesday discussing the case. They didn't deliberate on Wednesday.
Associated Press writer Paul Elias in San Francisco contributed to this report.