In California, South Bay assault case puts priest abuse on trial | Child Abuse
For a trial that's reportedly supposed to be about someone beating up a senior citizen, there's not much being said about the beating.
The 2-week-old trial of William Lynch in San Jose is really about seeking the public humiliation of the man Lynch says raped him as a child - the same man, retired Catholic priest Jerold Lindner, he is accused of beating up two years ago.
And even more, it's reportedly about clergy abuse in general, and rage over statutes of limitations that let molesters off the hook if their young victims don't reveal the abuse until years later.
That, in essence, is what's being said by Lynch, his lawyers and the picket-waving throngs who attend every hearing at Santa Clara County Superior Court and revile the priest and his representatives whenever they show up.
"This case has nothing to do with someone getting hit," 61-year-old Pat Mullarkey of Richmond said Friday, waving a sign reading, "Father Jerry rapes our kids." "It's about justice not being served. The law needs to be changed so priests like Jerry Lindner can't get away with molesting children."
Facing 4 years
Lynch, who is 44 and lives in San Francisco, is accused of two felony counts of assault and elder abuse for going to the Sacred Heart retirement center in Los Gatos in May 2010 and pummeling Lindner, 67. A conviction could send him to prison for four years.
Nobody is denying the attack happened. Instead, the defense argues that Lynch was justified in hitting the priest because of the trauma he has suffered from being molested years ago.
Lynch, an unemployed commercial real estate agent, took the stand Friday and, between sobs, described in excruciating detail the molestation he said took place in 1975 on a camping excursion to the Santa Cruz Mountains when he was 7 and his brother was 4.
The priest violently sodomized him, he said, and in a second attack made the Lynch brothers orally copulate each other.
"He told me that if I told on him, he'd kill my parents, kill my brother, kill my sister," Lynch said. "He said he'd peel the skin off me."
The camping trip was one of many taken by a group of Catholic families who asked Lindner along to be spiritual adviser. Lynch testified that he was never molested again by the priest - but that the one trip was enough.
As he grew, Lynch said, "I hated myself. There was a lot of fear and shame and guilt."
By the time he and his brother finally revealed the alleged molestation to their parents in 1994, the six-year statute of limitations for such crimes had expired.
The testimony then veered to the attack decades later. Lynch told the jury he had gotten into the priest's retirement home on a ruse with a false name, then asked Lindner if he recognized him.
"He said 'no,' " Lynch testified. "I said, 'You should remember the kids you molested.' Then his body kind of sagged ... and he looked up and leered at me. He changed. It's the same look he had when he raped me. ... When I saw that, I felt threatened."
After telling the priest to remove his glasses, Lynch said, he hit him.
"I was angry," he testified. "I was reverting back to the things in my childhood." Lindner suffered bruises and two head cuts requiring stitches.
There appears to be little doubt that Lindner raped Lynch and his brother. The brothers won a $625,000 settlement from the Catholic Church in a 1997 lawsuit over the allegations, and the church has paid millions of dollars to other Lindner victims.
Even the prosecutor in Lynch's trial said in her opening statement that the former priest had molested the defendant and that she expected Lindner to lie about it on the stand.
Priest takes 5th
Shortly after Deputy District Attorney Vicki Gemetti made that assertion, the portly, bespectacled Lindner did indeed take the stand and denied abusing the Lynch boys.
During his brief appearance on the stand, he also described his beating at the hands of Lynch - but the next day, he and his lawyer came to court and immediately invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The judge then threw out Lindner's entire testimony and, because of that, said three people set to testify that they were abused by Lindner could not take the stand. Those three included Lynch's brother and Lindner's own niece.
"I feel pissed off that I can't testify," said the niece, 44-year-old Tamara Roehm of Los Angeles. "When I finally stopped him and told my parents about it when I was 14, they said, 'Well, you'll never have to see him again' - but then of course I did. And I never got justice."
Lindner did not show up for Friday's hearing, but his attorney Joe Wall Jr. did - and as he walked past the crowd into the courtroom, many glared and hissed.
The few times Lindner has come to court, he's had to be escorted past hostile crowds by armed bailiffs.
When Lynch arrived for his time on the witness stand Friday, the crowd clapped and cheered.
Asked for his observations as he left court, Wall stared at the crowd for a long moment. "I can't comment," he said finally.
Lynch's supporters include people who only recently heard about the case and have come from as far away as Baltimore for the trial.
"Under different circumstances, that could have been me being molested instead of Will Lynch," said Gil Villagrain, a 64-year-old retired social worker in San Jose whose clients included molestation victims. "And after I read about this case in the papers, I realized I just had to come to this trial, even though I don't know anyone involved."
Closing arguments in the case are expected Monday.
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