17 Jan 2011

California man charged with assault for beating elderly priest who was never charged for raping him and his brother

TIME - November 17, 2010

Should Sex Abuse Justify a Vigilante Attack?

By Adam Cohen

It is a dark story with an even darker twist: William Lynch, 44, was arrested last month for going into a northern California nursing home, luring an elderly priest into the lobby and beating him bloody. Lynch insists that when he was 7 years old the priest, Jerold Lindner, 65, had sexually molested him.

After Lynch was arrested, the blogosphere lit up with messages of support — and protests that he was being charged for a beating that many regarded as well-deserved payback. When Lynch was arraigned in a courtroom in San Jose, Calif., last week on suspicion of assault, his backers marched with signs attacking the Catholic Church's handling of sexual abuse in its ranks and proclaiming "Free Willy."

Lynch has vowed to fight the assault charge against him and to make Lindner — who has denied abusing him or anyone else — the issue. "Somebody needs to be a face for this abuse, and I'm prepared to put myself on the line," he told the Associated Press.

Yet the question is whether we as a society are prepared for crossing that line. In the 1980s in New York City, Bernhard Goetz — a subway rider who shot four young men he believed were menacing him — ignited a national debate over vigilantism. Lynch's trial has the potential to raise the same issue for a new generation: When, if ever, does someone have the right to take the law into his own hands?

Lynch's claims are gut-wrenching. He says that he and his younger brother were raped and forced to have oral sex with each other while Lindner watched. The abuse occurred in 1975 on trips to a religious camp, Lynch says. Lindner has been previously accused of abuse by others, including family members, but never charged with anything.

In 1998, Lynch and his brother settled an abuse lawsuit against the Jesuits of the California Province for $625,000. Lindner was removed from active ministry in Los Angeles, but the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution had passed.

Lynch has said he has been traumatized for decades, has suffered from alcohol abuse and depression, and has tried to commit suicide. In 2002, he told the San Jose Mercury News, "I could kill him with my bare hands."

If Lynch tries to beat the charges at trial by invoking the 35-year-old abuse, he may have an uphill battle. It is not clear that a judge would allow Lynch's lawyers to put on evidence of the abuse, and even if the jury found out about it — in court or from news reports — it would not be a legal excuse for the assault.

Still, it is not out of the question that Lynch could prevail. Juries always have the right to engage in jury nullification — to deliver a verdict they believe is just, even if it is not strictly supported by the law or the evidence. Before the Civil War, some northern juries would not convict people who had harbored escaped slaves in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act. In the civil rights era, some all-white juries in the South would not convict whites who had committed crimes against blacks.

Should Lynch's actions be similarly excused? Assuming his claims are true, it is hard not to feel deeply sympathetic for him. It seems only right that if he is convicted, his trauma should be taken into account in determining his punishment. But it is something else entirely to say that he should be able to physically attack Lindner with impunity.

Vigilantism, after all, is a poor form of justice. It means individuals — and very biased ones, at that — have taken it upon themselves to pronounce people guilty and mete out the punishment. All too often, the punishments — like the physical one Lynch allegedly delivered — are not ones our criminal-justice system imposes, even on the guilty. If more people acted as Lynch is accused of having acted, we would descend into mob rule.

At the same time, vigilante justice — and popular support for it — can tell us something important about society. Vigilantism thrives where the official justice system is flawed or nonexistent. In the Wild West, the hastily rounded-up posse was often the only kind of law available, and it was seen as better than no law at all.

The issue of vigilantism is particularly resonant right now because the Internet is making it so much easier. At any given moment, a lynch mob is forming somewhere online. Last week, a 60-year-old Massachusetts woman reportedly had to get police protection after a video allegedly showed her delivering a racist rant and physically attacking a black mailman went viral on the Internet.

What all of these cases of vigilantism have in common is the popular impression that the system failed. Many people sympathized with Goetz because they believed that criminals were being allowed to run amok in the subway system. One factor fueling the outrage at the Massachusetts woman was the perception that the courts let grotesque conduct off with a slap on the wrist.

And many of Lynch's supporters believe the legal system has not worked in the case of priest sexual abuse. They see the Catholic Church as having effectively shielded its abusive priests from the law — and as having made it possible for them to keep abusing. Some question whether a statute of limitations should be allowed to apply in cases of child sexual abuse.

It is a cliché for a criminal defendant to say he is "putting the system on trial," but that is what defendants like Lynch do. Even as we condemn vigilante acts like his attack, we need to grapple with what they are telling us about the justice system, and how to right that particular wrong.

Cohen, a lawyer who teaches at Yale Law School, is a former TIME writer and a former member of the New York Times editorial board. Case Study, his legal column for TIME.com, appears every Wednesday.

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  1. Trial begins for man who beat priest he says molested him

    By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times June 21, 2012

    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."

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    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.


  3. Man who attacked priest in revenge is not guilty of felonies

    William Lynch, who beat the Catholic priest he said molested him as a child, is acquitted on elder abuse and felony assault charges. He may be retried on a misdemeanor assault charge.

    By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times July 6, 2012

    SAN JOSE — A jury has found a San Francisco man not guilty of felony assault and felony elder abuse, despite his admission that he attacked the priest accused of molesting him nearly four decades ago.

    The 10-man, two-woman panel also said Thursday that William Lynch was not guilty of misdemeanor elder abuse in the 2010 attack on Father Jerold Lindner. The 67-year-old Catholic priest has been linked to more than a dozen alleged victims — including his own nieces, nephew and sister — but never has been brought to trial because the statute of limitations in every case had run out.

    The jury was split on a final charge against Lynch: misdemeanor assault. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge David Cena declared a mistrial on that count. Dist. Atty. Jeffrey Rosen said his office would decide in the coming days whether to retry Lynch.

    After the verdict was read, Lynch said he had felt certain that he would be going to jail — and was pleasantly surprised that he would not. But he also spoke haltingly, and with deep emotion, about justice and responsibility.

    "I was wrong for what I did," said Lynch, 45. "If I'm going to be taking responsibility, I have to take it fully. And in [beating Lindner] … I was perpetuating the cycle of violence."

    Surrounded by family, supporters and his attorneys in front of the courthouse, Lynch said: "I wanted to … be accountable, unlike the church and Father Jerry up to this point."

    Rosen said that his office too had had a responsibility: to charge Lynch for lying his way into the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, where the retired Lindner lived, and attacking him.

    Using "a fake name, gloves. Beating and bloodying someone. That's not justice under the law," Rosen said after the verdict, giving a shorthand account of Lynch's actions. "That's revenge."

    Rosen said that although his office understood what motivated Lynch's behavior, "we do not condone it.… A just punishment is delivered through our justice system, not through the acts of one traumatized and troubled man."

    The two-week-long trial was filled with dramatic turns and punctuated with tearful, graphic testimony — not about the attack in question, but about what happened in 1974. That is when Lindner allegedly lured Lynch and his younger brother, then 7 and 4, into his tent during a Catholic family camping trip. The boys said that the priest raped them and forced them to perform oral copulation on each other while he watched.

    As the trial opened, Deputy Dist. Atty. Vicki Gemetti told the jury that Lindner, who was a spiritual advisor for the outing in the Santa Cruz Mountains, had indeed molested the Lynch brothers.

    She played a gut-wrenching video of a San Jose Mercury News interview in which Lynch recently talked in graphic detail about that camping trip years ago. Gemetti told the jury that Lindner would "probably lie" when he took the stand.

    When Gemetti asked whether he had molested Lynch and his brother, Lindner said: "No."

    Defense attorneys called for a mistrial, insisting Gemetti had committed prosecutorial misconduct by inducing perjury. Cena disagreed, and the trial continued.

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    But when Lindner returned to the stand, he refused to testify further on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. The judge then struck Lindner's testimony entirely and told the jury to ignore the priest's description of Lynch's "vicious" attack.

    And that, Juror No. 12 said, was key for him in deciding the case.

    "The victim in this case disappeared," said the retired accountant, who declined to give his name. "His testimony disappeared. To me, if you have no victim, do you have a crime?"

    The juror, who walked with a cane and sported a silver brush cut, described the nine hours of jury deliberations over three days as cordial and professional.

    "There were 12 people who simply agreed to disagree," the juror said. "There was some disagreement with the law. There was disagreement with some of the testimony. There was disagreement with each other."

    The juror said that everyone on the panel believed that Lindner had committed "absolutely heinous" crimes against Lynch and his brother. But, he said, he was one of the eight who voted "guilty" on the lesser charge of simple misdemeanor assault because Lynch "got up and said he did it."

    To defense attorneys Pat Harris and Paul Mones, Lynch's testimony was an act of courage fueled by his desire to protect other children from Lindner — and to fight the Roman Catholic Church and other institutions that cover up child sexual abuse and protect perpetrators.

    "Will had the strength to speak for many people who can't speak," said Mones, who called the jury's verdict "an example of what's been happening around the country today."

    "It's no coincidence that we have the convictions of Sandusky, we had the conviction of Msgr. Lynn in Philadelphia," he said. "All around the United States, people are finally now regarding the issue of sexual abuse of children as something we won't tolerate."

    Mones was referring to the recent convictions of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach found guilty on 45 charges of sexually abusing children, and Msgr. William Lynn, the first high-level Catholic Church official in the U.S. to be found guilty of child endangerment for covering up sexual abuse by priests under his supervision.

    Lynch and the district attorney's office agreed on one thing Thursday: that they would press to extend or eliminate the statute of limitations for people accused of sexually assaulting children.

    In Lynch's case, the statute of limitations ran out in 1980; he did not come forward with his accusations until 1996.

    The statute of limitations "is the monkey wrench in the machine," he said. "If that's removed from the situation, the system will function more effectively."