SAN JOSE — When the jury in Department 34 of Santa Clara County Superior Court finally sits down to deliberate, the main question facing the nine men and three women sounds simple: Just who is the victim here?
William Lynch, 45, is accused of tracking down Father Jerold Lindner on May 10, 2010, and assaulting him at his Jesuit retirement home. Witnesses testified during the preliminary hearing that Lynch had punched and kicked the elderly priest, yelling: “You ruined my life. Turn yourself in. You molested me.”
Lynch and his younger brother sued the Society of Jesus, Lindner’s order, 15 years ago, alleging that the priest had raped them and forced them to have sex with each other when Lynch was 7 and his brother 4. The case was settled for $625,000, and Lindner was removed from Loyola High School in Los Angeles, where he had been teaching. The church never informed law enforcement about the allegations.
More than a dozen men and women have accused Lindner of molesting them through the years — including his sister, nieces and nephew. The Catholic Church has settled three cases brought against him, according to a Jesuit spokesman. But the 67-year-old has never faced charges because the statute of limitations for the alleged abuse had run out.
Now Lynch has been charged with felony assault and elder abuse, facing up to four years in prison. He turned down a plea agreement, he said in an interview as his trial began here Wednesday, because “I realized it was the only way I could get Father Lindner in court and to have an opportunity to possibly find some justice that way.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Vicki Gemetti began her dramatic opening statement in silence, placing a larger-than-life photo of a dazed and bloodied Lindner on an easel before the jurors. Every seat in the courtroom was filled.
“Who beat up the old man?” Gemetti began. “That’s what you thought about when you saw that picture and you didn’t know anything else about it. The defendant beat up the old man. The defendant beat this man up because he’s angry and wanted revenge.
“The defendant planned and executed a violent attack against the man who molested him over 30 years ago,” she continued, saying Lynch had acted as a vigilante. And revenge, Gemetti said, “is not a defense, ever, to a criminal act.”
Lynch — and possibly other alleged victims of Lindner — are scheduled to testify in the trial. To blunt the stories of stolen innocence and defuse the power of details that she called “gut-wrenching,” Gemetti on Wednesday played a nine-minute video of Lynch describing for the San Jose Mercury News how Lindner had raped and strangled him and forced him to commit incest as the priest watched.
Then she told the jury that the evidence in the trial “will show that he molested the defendant all those years ago.”
In addition, Gemetti said, Lindner “will probably lie to you” and say the abuse never happened. But Lynch is the one on trial, she said, and “the evidence in this case will establish that the defendant beat this man. It will be undeniable.”
Defense attorney Pat Harris countered the photograph of a Lindner with an elementary school picture of Lynch, age 7, smiling, and a Polaroid of the Lynch boys and their sister. William has his arm around his younger brother.
“The case did not begin in 2010,” Harris told the jury. “It began with a 7-year-old boy and his 4-year-old brother … the two of them were on a camping trip with their family.”
It was Memorial Day weekend, 1974, and the campout in the Santa Cruz Mountains was sponsored by a group of devout lay Catholics called the Christian Family Movement. “Father Jerry,” as he was known then, was the group’s spiritual advisor.
Lindner lured Lynch into his tent twice and raped him, Harris said. The first time, the boy was alone. The second time he arrived at Lindner’s tent, Lynch’s little brother was already there, looking dazed.
Lindner proceeded to rape and sodomize Lynch, Harris said, “then he forced Mr. Lynch and his brother to have a sexual act.” Afterward, Harris said, Lindner “told Mr. Lynch, ‘You are no longer a child of God. You are dirty.’
“And he threatened that he would do unspeakable acts to his family if they ever told,” Harris continued. “For years they didn’t.”
But Lynch did not act out of revenge, Harris said. After his brother told their parents about the abuse when the two young men were in their 20s, Lynch went to police and to the Catholic Church. He said he and his brother finally filed a civil suit in an effort to get Lindner out of the classroom and away from other young people.
In the years since the alleged abuse, Lynch has suffered from depression and alcohol abuse and twice attempted suicide. He and his brother have since become estranged. “I essentially died that day,” Lynch said in an interview after the opening statements.
Harris told the jury that Lynch had gone to Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, where Lindner had lived since 2002, several times through the years because “he needed to confront Father Lindner about what he’d done.” But that May day was the first time he could ever “summon the courage.”
First, he called the retirement home, identified himself as Eric Blau and said he needed to inform Lindner of a death in the family. He asked what would be the best time to drop by. When he arrived a couple of hours later, a receptionist told him to wait in the parlor.
The evidence will show, Harris told the jury, that only two men know what happened next in the small sitting room that afternoon.
“One of them, the prosecutor already told you, is probably going to lie,” Harris said. “The other one is going to tell you what happened.”
During his brief appearance on the witness stand Wednesday, Lindner — stocky and gray-haired, wearing a rumpled blue Oxford shirt and khakis — was asked about the beating.
“I was frightened,” he said. “I was panicked. I was yelling for help. I had no idea why it was happening. He was hurting me.”
And then, he was asked about the abuse.
“Did you molest the defendant?” Gemetti asked.
“No,” he replied.
“Did you molest his brother?”
At the defense table, Lynch wiped away tears.