- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Opening statements were scheduled to begin Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of beating an aging Jesuit priest who he says molested him and his younger brother more than 35 years ago.

William Lynch has said the priest abused him and his brother during a camping trip in Northern California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. Now 44, Mr. Lynch will get his longtime wish to face the Rev. Jerold Lindner in court for the first time.

Mr. Lynch faces felony charges of assault and elder abuse after prosecutors say he beat Father Lindner in 2010 in front of startled witnesses at a retirement home for priests.

In the months since his arrest, Mr. Lynch has refused to discuss a plea deal and has grown intent on using his own legal trouble to try Father Lindner in the court of public opinion in a potentially explosive proceeding likely to include testimony from Mr. Lynch, the priest and several more of his alleged victims.

The trial will take place in Santa Clara County Superior Court, where several other victims are expected to attend. Mr. Lynch faces up to four years in prison if convicted on all charges.

The judge overseeing the case recently ruled that Mr. Lynch’s lawyer can ask the priest about Mr. Lynch’s allegations during cross-examination. If Father Lindner denies the accusations, attorney Pat Harris can call up to three other witnesses who claim they also were molested by Father Lindner as children, including Mr. Lynch’s younger brother.

The Lynches, who were 7 and 4 at the time, were raped in the woods and forced to have oral sex with each other while Father Lindner watched, according to a civil lawsuit. Father Lindner has been accused of abuse by nearly a dozen people, including his own sister and nieces and nephews, but never was criminally charged because the allegations were too old.

Father Lindner hung up Monday when the Associated Press called him for comment. He previously has denied abusing the Lynch boys and said in a deposition from the late 1990s that he didn’t recall the siblings. The brothers settled with the Jesuits of the California Province for $625,000 in 1998.

Getting Father Lindner into court — even as a victim — has helped Mr. Lynch find the peace of mind he’s been searching for his whole life, he said.

“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,” Mr. Lynch told the AP. “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.”

The priest likely will testify at the trial, but Mr. Lynch’s attempt to shame and expose Father Lindner is misguided, Deputy District Attorney Vicki Gemetti said.

Even if the molestation allegations are true, the judge’s order only allows the defense to ask general questions about sexual abuse for the purpose of challenging Father Lindner’s credibility as a witness. Other defense witnesses who allege abuse by the priest can’t be questioned about specific details that could inflame the jury.

“What the jury needs to be deciding is did an assault take place? There might be sympathetic reasons for an assault, but yes, it’s an assault,” Ms. Gemetti said. “The victim is not squeaky clean, but that doesn’t change the fact that you can’t take the law into your own hands.”

It’s unlikely testimony about Mr. Lynch’s abuse allegations could tip the case in his favor — but not impossible, said Jody Armour, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law who specializes in criminal law and social justice issues.

Jurors will have to be reminded not to be swayed by their prejudices or by any sympathy they may feel for Mr. Lynch.

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