Powerful, Emotional Closing Arguments in Priest-beating Case
By Tracey Kaplan
July 2, 2012
|Will Lynch leaves the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice for the day in San Jose, Calif. on Monday, July 2, 2012.Jurors may soon begin deciding the fate of Will Lynch, who is accused of assaulting Rev. Jerold Lindner two years ago at the Sacred Heart retirement home in Los Gatos, where Lindner is listed as a child molester. (Lauren Purkey/Staff)|
In a powerful closing argument, the prosecutor in the priest-beating case urged jurors to convict a San Francisco man of assault, even though they may sympathize with him because he says the cleric sexually abused him as a child.
But the defense countered even more passionately, asking the Santa Clara County jury to acquit him because the wrong man was on trial.
Late Monday, the nine men and three women on the jury began deciding the fate of Will Lynch, who is accused of assaulting the Rev. Jerold Lindner two years ago at the Sacred Heart retirement home in Los Gatos, where Lindner is listed as a child molester.
Lynch alleges Lindner sexually molested him and his 4-year-old brother more than 35 years ago. Because the statute of limitations had ended when Lynch and other alleged victims came forward with the allegations, Lindner never faced any criminal charges.
In her 45-minute closing argument, prosecutor Vicki Gemetti acknowledged the sympathy Lynch invokes, but she reminded jurors of a basic principle from their youth.
"This case is as simple as what we learned as small children from our mom, 'Two wrongs don't make a right,' " Gemetti said.
Pat Harris, Lynch's lead attorney, said the case at worst should be a simple misdemeanor, not two felonies as the prosecution is pursuing.
"The DA says no man is above the law, but there is one man who has been above the law, who sits in a vineyard, with medical care and
cars," Harris said, referring to Lindner.
Lynch alleges Lindner sexually molested Lynch and his brother in the 1970s during a camping trip sponsored by a religious group.
Without acknowledging wrongdoing, the Jesuits paid Lynch and his brother about $187,000 each after legal fees to settle a lawsuit they filed claiming Lindner had raped Lynch and made him have oral sex with his brother. The order also paid another camper more than $1.5 million to settle her lawsuit. In 2007, Lindner's niece sued the order for the priest sexually abusing her as a child and settled for $786,000.
Lynch, now 44, faces a maximum of four years in prison if he is convicted of the attack on Lindner, which left the priest bruised and bloody, and with a cut above his left eye requiring stitches. Lynch chose to go to trial rather than negotiate a plea deal for no more than a year in jail because he wanted to "out" the priest and expose clergy sex abuse.
Gemetti said the evidence supported felony convictions rather than the lesser misdemeanors that the jury has the option of considering. Lynch admitted in court he hit Lindner more than twice in the head, which the prosecutor compared to blows in a boxing match. As she spoke, a photo of Muhammad Ali punching an opponent flashed on a screen in the courtroom.
"What it's really about is holding the defendant responsible, even when we understand his motive, even when we are sympathetic to what he has gone through, even when we wish we could hold Lindner responsible for all the pain he caused," Gemetti said.
Lynch testified he didn't go to Sacred Heart to pummel Lindner, but did so after the priest "leered" at him the same way he did during the alleged molestation decades ago.
But Gemetti insisted Lynch was seeking revenge and painted him as a vigilante.
"Our system may not be perfect, but to act outside the law erodes it even further," Gemetti said.
In his closing statement, Harris said the prosecution had a choice, but decided to "overcharge the case" by filing felonies in a case where "the damage was less than a 10-second bar fight."
There is a defense to that "overzealous" decision by the prosecution, Harris said -- "you," looking at the jurors.
Harris said the injuries were minor or moderate -- not "significant or substantial."
Gemetti, however, said the jury must decide if Lynch used force likely to cause great bodily injury, not whether the resulting wounds were serious or life-threatening.
Paul A. Mones, Lynch's other defense attorney, said the harm Lindner did to his client was far worse.
"The deplorable truth is Jerold Lindner committed rape, forcible sodomy and made threats to his (Lynch's) life and his family," Mones said.
The prosecution acts like Lynch is "some kind of modern-day Dirty Harry," but he is only someone who was trying to purge the "ghosts of his youth" when he went to confront Lindner verbally and get him to sign a confession, Mones said.
Harris followed up by saying that Lynch "did what the police would not do, what prosecutors would not, what the Catholic Church would not do."
"He's the only reason the children of Los Gatos" know about Lindner and "are safe."
The arguments also focused on whether Lynch knew or should have known Lindner was 65, the minimum age for a crime to be elder abuse. Gemetti said Lynch should have known because Lindner was older than Lynch at the time of the alleged molestation and was living in a retirement home.
Harris said Lynch had no idea how old Lindner was. The priest had been "retired" from active duty for "his extracurricular activities," Harris said sarcastically, after the Lynch brothers settled their lawsuit against him in 1998. Also, Lindner has been living at the retirement home since he was 54, well before he turned 65.
In her rebuttal, Gemetti tried hard to steer the jury away from "nullification" -- when a panel acquits a defendant despite evidence of guilt because it believes a conviction would be unjust. Defense attorneys in California cannot ask the jury to do that directly, even though it is legal for the jury to nullify.
"(Lynch) is not some kind of hero or Robin Hood," Gemetti said. "He's a man with a void. He filled it with anger, with rage. And now he's asking you to vindicate his action. You can't."
But Harris said Lynch acted out of "dual motives" -- a selfish need to confront his abuser and a genuine desire to protect the community, and asked the jury to consider the circumstances, including what happened decades ago.
Then in a parting shot, he added, "And they want to put this man in jail?"