Herhold: the Victim and Defendant in the Lynch Case Switched Roles

By Scott Herhold
Mercury News
July 6, 2012

Will Lynch hugs his father, John Lynch, while, Lynch's mother, Peggy, left, reacts to the two-count acquittal verdict in his trial, accused of assaulting Father Jerold Lindner, as seen in the courtroom of Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge David A. Cena, in San Jose, on Thursday, July 5 2012. Lynch was accused of beating the Lindner, 35 years after Lynch said the priest molested him and his younger brother, at ages 7 and 4. pool photographer: Karen T. Borchers/ Mercury New/Bay Area News Group

The trial of Will Lynch offered mirrors within mirrors, ironies within ironies. Nothing made that clearer than the words of juror No. 12, a grizzled, retired accountant who said the turning point came when the jurors were instructed to ignore the testimony of the Rev. Jerold Lindner.

"The thing that struck me was that the victim in this case disappeared, or his testimony did. I had to ask myself, if you don't have a victim, do you have a crime?" said the burly juror, who explained that jurors were ready to acquit on all charges until Lynch testified to the attack.

In my view, the jury still got it wrong: We don't operate as vigilantes in America. But you could understand how they got there. In the courtroom, the defendant became Lindner, not Lynch. And the crime happened 35 years ago, not two years past.

How did we get to the place where a man can go to a Jesuit retreat center, bloody the priest who assaulted him years ago, and then emerge to cheers after a near clear-cut victory in court?

The quick answer is that powerful forces and feelings trump a prosecutor's brief. Emotions, and yes, the memory of years of abuse by priests, matter more than the cold litany of charges. Call it jury nullification, but it is both simpler and more complex than that.

The warp of the mirrors begins with Lindner, who came across as an unsympathetic character in court, particularly when he denied molesting Lynch as a child. Although Judge David Cena told the jurors to disregard Lindner's testimony, they could not forget the deceitful priest.

Had Lindner said that yes, he had committed the crime 35 years ago, and regretted it deeply, he might have gotten a measure of sympathy from the jurors.

To admit such a heinous act, however, would be to acknowledge being a monster, beyond the realm of redemption. It was the reason that Jerry Sandusky could not admit to sexual molestation charges, even with the powerful evidence against him.

Taking the stand

The irony didn't stop there. If Lynch's goal was to win an acquittal, he would have done better by not taking the stand. By then, the defense had pounded serious chinks in the prosecution's case.

But that wasn't the point of his act. If the priest denied the past, Lynch wanted nothing more than to publicize it. If juror No. 12 had it right, that resulted in eight jurors voting to convict Lynch on misdemeanor assault, the one hung charge.

After the trial, we were treated to the kind of spin that you ordinarily see on election night.

Lynch's lawyers demanded that Lindner be charged with perjury.

And Prosecutor Jeff Rosen sounded like a man covering his political flanks, insisting that his office handled the case well and aggressively went after molesters.

In the end, the most honest man to stand before the microphones was the 44-year-old Lynch himself, who said that he had expected to go to jail. If you believe -- as I do -- that we should not take law into our own hands, he should have.

"I would advise you not to do what I did," he told the crowd. "Do something different."

Contact Scott Herhold at or 408-275-0917








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