People in the San Jose, California courtroom were shocked when the jury returned with not guilty verdicts. William Lynch, 44, had taken the stand and admitted beating retired priest Jerold Lindner, 67, in 2010.
After the jury deliberated for just over two days, the two week trial ended yesterday when jurors returned to the San Jose courtroom to deliver their verdict. They found Lynch not guilty of felony assault and felony elder abuse. Some of the jurors wanted to convict the 44-year-old of something but they were deadlocked, voting 8-4 in favour of convicting him of misdemeanor assault.
Lynch, his family, and other supporters were surprised and pleased. The Boston Herald quotes Lynch telling reporters, "I thought I was going to jail. I was really happy and surprised...We brought Father Lindner into the light."
Had Lynch been convicted, he would have faced up to four years in jail. He earlier refused a plea bargain that would have seen him sentenced to one year in jail.
Lynch took the stand in his defense and admitted he had confronted Lindner at his retirement home in Los Gatos. Lynch told the jury he merely wanted the retired priest to admit to having sexually assaulted him on a camping trip in 1975 when Lynch was seven years old. The defendant testified he "snapped" and began punching the former priest when Lindner simply leered at him; the same way he leered at him 37 years ago.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports Lynch told the jury that he and his 4-year-old brother went on a religious camping trip in the summer of 1975. He testified Lindner violently sodomized him and forced him and his brother to engage in oral sex with each other. Lynch said, "He [Lindner] told me if I told on him, he'd kill my parents, kill my brother, kill my sister."
Prosecutors had argued Lynch should be convicted because what he did amounted to administering vigilante justice. CBS News quotes Steven Clark, a former prosecutor who watched the trial, as saying this case was unusual because Lynch took the stand and admitted the crime. Clark said, "The DA's office was in a very difficult position because they had to go forward with the case. They can't allow vigilante justice to be ignored. But the DA's office is not used to having pedophiles as victims."
As reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, one of the factors that the jury gave a lot of weight to was the detailed evidence Lynch gave about what happened back in 1975. The jury considered it even though the trial judge told them only what happened on May 10, 2010 was to be considered in deciding whether Lynch was guilty.
Another factor the jury took into account was Lindner's testimony. He denied the sexual abuse and part way into his evidence, he refused to answer any more questions to avoid incriminating himself if he should face a perjury charge. The jury considered this even though the trial judge instructed them to ignore Lindner's evidence in its entirety.
As reported by CBS News, Lindner gave evidence in a disposition taken in the 1990s that he couldn't recall Lynch even though Lynch received $625,000 from the Jesuits in a 1988 abuse settlement. Lynch's lawyers want the former priest charged with perjury.
The District Attorney has not yet decided if Lynch will be retried on the misdemeanor assault charge.