William Lynch of San Diego, California was acquitted Thursday of felony assault charges stemming from an incident in which he beat up the Catholic priest who allegedly molested him and his younger brother on a camping trip more than 35 years ago. According to the Associated Press, Lynch was taken aback by the verdict. The 44-year-old defendant said that he fully expected to go to jail for attacking retired priest Jerold Lindner.
"I honestly thought I was going to jail," Lynch told reporters. "It turned out better than I expected."
Steven Clark, a retired prosecutor who followed the trial for the AP said that the verdict was an extremely rare one, given that Lynch had confessed to the attack in court. However, he claimed, the particulars of the case were highly unusual.
"The DA's office was in a very difficult position because they had to go forward with the case," he said, "They can't allow vigilante justice to be ignored. But the DA's office is not used to having pedophiles as victims."
Lynch was charged with felony assault and elder abuse after he attacked Lindner during a meeting in which he asked the priest to sign a confession. Because the statute of limitations had expired, Lynch and his brother were never able to file formal charges against the priest, who they claim molested them on a church camping trip in 1975. Lynch told the court that he had not gone to the meeting intending to attack the priest, but lost control when Lindner "leered" at him the same way he had, allegedly, on the weekend when the molestation occurred.
The jury acquitted Lynch after a two-week trial that saw testimony by Lindner in which he denied abusing the boys, but later invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and would offer no further testimony for fear of perjury charges. The judge also ordered that Lindner's testimony be stricken from the record, a move that Lynch's attorney, Pat Harris, interpreted as evidence of the priest's guilt, and grounds for a perjury suit.
"Lindner is not beyond justice," he said. "He perjured himself and let's see them put him in jail."
In a deposition in the late 1990s, Lindner claimed that he didn't recall Lynch from the dozens of boys who had been his parishioners over the years. Documents produced in court, however, showed that Lynch received a confidential $625,000 settlement from the Jesuit order after filing charges related to the abuse.
The verdict is seen as a particular victory to the defense team. Lynch declined a plea deal earlier this year because he wanted to publicly shame Lindner and call attention to the clergy sex abuse scandal. He said that memories of the abuse have troubled him throughout his life, resulting in struggles with alcohol, a failed marriage, recurring nightmares and other issues common to sex abuse survivors.
The jury was deadlocked 8-4 as to whether to convict Lynch of a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault. The jurors, who wished to remain anonymous, told the San Francisco Chronicle that they couldn't bring themselves to convict Lynch after hearing his testimony about the abuse.
Lynch said that he hopes his story will encourage other abuse survivors to come forward.
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