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Man tells jury in assault trial he did hit elderly priest he says raped him when he was youth

By Tracey Kaplan, San Jose Mercury News –

SAN JOSE, Calif. — At times sobbing during emotional testimony, Will Lynch took the stand Friday and admitted he assaulted the priest he claims raped him more than 35 years ago.

But Lynch, charged with two felonies in a case that’s drawn national attention, said he did not plan to attack the Rev. Jerold Lindner when he went in 2010 to the Sacred Heart Jesuit retirement center in Los Gatos, Calif., where the priest lives.

He testified instead, in words that riveted the packed courtroom, that he punched Lindner when the priest “looked up and leered at me, the same look in his eyes as when he had molested me, when he raped and tortured me.”

“I hit him more than once,” admitted Lynch, who began his testimony Friday morning after the prosecution rested its case.

It was Lynch’s first public account of the notorious confrontation. He is accused of two felonies that together carry a maximum sentence of four years — assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury and elder abuse under circumstances likely to produce great bodily harm or death.

Lynch refused to negotiate a plea deal, which would have jailed him for no more than a year, because he wanted to “out” Lindner and expose clergy sex abuse.

Lynch’s testimony in a Santa Clara County, Calif., courtroom could help prosecutor Vicki Gemetti argue he is guilty of committing at least misdemeanor assault.

Assault requires only a showing that the defendant intended to do the act prohibited by law, not that the defendant intended the precise harm or the precise result that occurred. In the case against Lynch, the only defenses are either that the assault was done in self-defense, or it was done by someone else.

Lynch admitted his role right away, saying, “I’m not going to insult the jury, I did meet with Lindner inside the guest parlor,” and acknowledging he hit him “more than once.”

And Lynch didn’t describe any physical provocation by the priest that would justify having to defend himself physically.

However, it is unclear whether the prosecutor has proved the assault was likely to cause great bodily injury, which would make it a felony as charged, or simple assault, a misdemeanor. The attack left Lindner bloody, bruised and with two small cuts requiring stitches.

Also, to get an elder-abuse conviction, Gemetti has to prove that Lynch knew Lindner was 65, and it is unclear she did.

Lynch’s attorneys are likely to argue that at most he is guilty of a misdemeanor because he testified he hit the priest for a brief period and stopped of his own volition.

Under cross-examination by Gemetti, Lynch kept his cool and denied that he planned to do great harm to Lindner, saying, “If I wanted him dead, he would be dead.”

Gemetti tried to chip away at Lynch’s insistence that he confronted Lindner as part of a mission to bring Lindner to justice. Lynch testified that he had telephoned the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office as well as other law enforcement agencies in several cities in 1996, urging them to arrest the priest.

He testified they told him they couldn’t look into it because he reported it 15 years too late — after the six-year statute of limitations of the mid-1970s era had elapsed. The alleged molestation took place when Lynch was 7; he would have had to report it by the time he was 13.

However, Gemetti cited notes in a report written by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective in 2002 that suggested Lynch was not as interested in seeking justice by helping the cop investigate Lindner as he claimed.

Lynch said he didn’t remember responding to the detective that way, but that if he did, it was probably because he had been told so many times by various law enforcement agencies that his quest was useless.

Lynch testified that even though he and his brother sued the Jesuits, netting about $187,000 each after legal fees in 1998, he was not satisfied because his attorney reneged on attaching a set of conditions to the agreement he hoped would protect the public. Among them: Lindner would be kept away from children and other vulnerable people.

While under questioning from his current attorney earlier Friday, Lynch gave a detailed account of what happened the day of his attack on the priest.

Lynch said that on May 10, 2010, he told a receptionist at the retirement center that he was there to inform Lindner, then 65, that the priest’s brother had died. When his attorney asked him why he did that, Lynch replied he wanted to hurt the priest.

He told jurors his intent was to get Lindner to sign a confession that he had sexually molested Lynch and his 4-year-old brother more than 35 years ago on a camping trip in the Santa Cruz Mountains sponsored by a religious group.

He testified about anxiously waiting for the priest to arrive. After telling Lindner that his brother had died, Lynch said he asked the priest a question: “Do you know who I am?’ ”

Lindner said no, according to Lynch.

“I said, ‘You should remember the kids you molested.’ ”

Lynch said the priest’s body and head sagged, but then, Lynch said, came the leering look. Lindner told him “Get out of here” a couple of times, according to Lynch.

Lynch said it was then that he hit the priest at least twice. Lindner responded by grabbing him by the throat. In response, Lynch said he grabbed Lindner by the throat and tried to throw him onto a couch.

Then the receptionist entered the room.

“I stopped,” Lynch said. “She looked frightened, and I didn’t want to frighten her. I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”

It was over in less than a minute, he said.

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