"This is a major victory," said Paul Mones, one of Lynch's two attorneys. He said it was remarkable because Lynch told the jury he punched the priest several times. Prosecutors called Lynch a vigilante and implored the jury not to be swayed by his dramatic testimony. Jurors told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper that none wanted to convict Lynch after hearing his testimony about the alleged abuse. The jurors asked to remain anonymous.
San Jose, California (CNN) -- A California jury Thursday acquitted a man charged with assaulting a retired Catholic priest, in a case that prosecutors had described as a vigilante attack.
William Lynch, 44, was accused of confronting the Rev. Jerold Lindner, 68, during a visit at Sacred Heart Retirement home for Jesuit priests in Los Gatos, California, where Lindner had been living since retirement in 2001.
Prosecutors claimed that Lynch walked into the retirement center on May 10, 2010, under the pretense of delivering news about a relative, and attacked his former pastor.
Lynch and his younger brother had claimed more than a decade earlier that Lindner sexually molested them during church-led camping trips in northern California when they were 7 and 5 years old.
During Lynch's assault trial, Lindner denied abusing the boys and maintained his innocence from the witness stand.
But two days into Lindner's testimony, his attorney notified the court that his client was invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and would not testify further for fear of a perjury prosecution.
Lynch also took the witness stand and testified that he only had wanted the priest to sign a confession, and he said he had punched him after experiencing an irrational fear triggered by memories of the alleged abuse.
Lynch's defense attorney, Pat Harris, claimed Lindner was responsible for his client's actions.
"Society is the victim in all this ... because there's a man sitting up there at Los Gatos who is a rapist, who molests children, and he's allow to go free," Harris said.
The statute of limitations on criminal molestation allegations had expired when Lynch and his brother went public with their allegations in 1997.
But in a civil lawsuit that was settled in 1998, Lynch and his brother asserted that Lindner sodomized them and forced them to have sex with each other while Lindner watched. In that suit, Lynch and his brother received a $625,000 settlement with the Jesuits of the California Province.
In the assault case against Lynch, he faced four counts stemming from the 2010 incident. The jury Thursday acquitted him on three counts and was unable to reach a decision on the fourth charge. The judge declared a mistrial on that count, and dismissed the charge.
Dozens of Lynch supporters, including his parents, gathered with demonstration signs outside the Santa Clara County Courthouse proclaiming the defendant's innocence.
Before the trial, prosecutors offered Lynch a plea deal offer that would have required a year in jail.
In closing arguments, prosecutors urged the jury to refrain from being swayed by Lynch's emotional testimony describing the alleged childhood trauma he claimed to have endured at the hands of Lindner.
After the verdict, Jim Muyo, a spokesman for the California Province of the Society of Jesus, released a statement saying they respect "the legal process and the findings of the judge and jury in the case of William Lynch."
A jury acquitted a man Thursday of assaulting a retired priest he says molested him more than three decades ago, causing him trauma that led to alcohol abuse, depression and suicide attempts. The defendant, William Lynch, took the witness stand and acknowledged punching the Rev. Jerold Lindner several times on May 10, 2010, at a Jesuit retirement home. Mr. Lynch said he hoped to use the case to publicly shame Father Lindner and bring further attention to the Catholic Church clergy abuse scandal. Prosecutors called Mr. Lynch a vigilante. Priest abuse victims and their supporters contributed to a defense fund and packed the courtroom every day for a trial. The retired priest also testified and denied abusing Mr. Lynch, who received $625,000 in a 1998 confidential settlement with the Jesuits.