July 5, 2012 — -- William Lynch, the 44-year-old California man who admitted he pummeled a Jesuit priest who he said abused him as a boy, has been found not guilty of felony assault and elder abuse charges.
The jury of nine men and three women could not reach a verdict on a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault for the 2010 attack at a retirement home, deadlocking 8-4 to convict him.
Lynch could have faced four years in jail if convicted on all the charges.
"I honestly thought I was going to jail," Lynch said after the verdicts were read, according to The Associated Press. "It turned our better than I expected."
The jurors began deliberations late Monday after hearing impassioned closing arguments from both sides.
The defense's strategy had been to argue to the jury that the wrong man was on trial -- that Lynch, not the priest, was the real victim. However, prosecutor Vicki Gemetti urged jurors to focus on the assault.
"Two wrongs don't make a right," she said in her closing arguments on Monday.
Lynch's crusade for his own form of personal justice against the priest, Jerry Lindner, drew supporters to the courthouse in San Jose, Calif., during his nearly three-week trial. They carried signs that read "stop clergy sex abuse" and condemned the "pedophile playground" retirement community that is home to Lindner, who has had previous allegations against him.
Lynch Admitted He Hit Priest
Lynch testified last Friday that he visited Lindner with the intention of having the aging Lindner sign a confession, but when the priest "looked up and leered" at him in much the same way he did more than 35 years ago when he sexually abused him, Lynch said he ordered the priest to take off his glasses and hit him.
Lynch passed up a plea deal of one year in jail and instead chose to go to trial to shame the man who he said had haunted his memories since his childhood.
"I don't want to go to jail, but I've come to realize that this whole thing is really bigger than me and the way that I've chosen to handle this is to make a statement," Lynch told The Associated Press before the start of his trial. "I'm prepared to take responsibility for anything I've been involved in. I'm willing to do it. I think it's a small sacrifice to get Father Jerry into court."
On a family camping trip 35 years ago, when Lynch was 7, he said he was brutally raped by Lindner and was then forced to perform sex acts on his 4-year-old brother. The alleged attack occurred in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1974.
The boys kept their painful secret for years, long past the six-year statute of limitations California had in place at the time of the alleged crimes.
Lynch got his wish to see the priest in court, even if Lindner was not the defendant. Lindner was forced to testify, but soon invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The judge struck his testimony from the record.
During his short time on the stand, Lindner, now 67, told the court he remembered Lynch, but only as the man who attacked him at a Los Gatos, Calif., Jesuit retirement community where Lindner has lived since 2001.
Lindner denied molesting Lynch and his younger brother.
Lynch's attorney declared the priest had perjured himself and even prosecutor Vicki Gemetti said in her opening statement that she expected Lindner to lie on the stand or say he didn't remember certain events.
"The evidence will show [Lindner] molested the defendant all those years ago," she said, but urged the jury to focus on Lynch's attack.
Lynch's case of alleged vigilante justice has attracted support from around the world and has shed light on a justice system many view as flawed.
Lynch and his brother were awarded $625,000 after filing a civil suit against Lindner in 1997. The priest was removed from active ministry and was moved to the Jesuit retirement community in 2001.
Lindner was named in two other abuse lawsuits, according to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.