SAN JOSE, Calif. – Will Lynch is looking for justice in an unusual way. Charged with savagely beating the priest he says molested him as a child, he plans to try to use his trial to publicly shame the Rev. Jerold Lindner in court and call attention to clergy abuse.
Law experts say he faces an uphill battle. But priest abuse victims are cheering him on and offering to donate to his defense fund. Several dozen supporters marched and waved signs Friday outside the Northern California courthouse where he was arraigned on an assault charge.
"Somebody needs to be a face for this abuse and I'm prepared to put myself on the line," Lynch told The Associated Press in the first interview since his arrest last month. "There's nothing they can take from me that they haven't already taken."
Lynch is accused of luring Lindner to the lobby of a retirement home in May and beating him bloody in front of horrified witnesses.
The 43-year-old has said he will plead not guilty, but he did not enter a plea during a brief hearing Friday before Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jerome S. Nadler. Another hearing is set for next month.
Outside court, supporters marched in a circle and waved signs that read "Help Free Willy" and showed a childhood portrait of Lynch next to a photo of the priest.
Lynch accuses the 65-year-old Jesuit priest of sexually abusing him and his younger brother in 1975 during weekend camping trips in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The boys, 7 and 4 at the time, were raped and forced to have oral sex with each other while Lindner watched, Lynch said.
Lindner has repeatedly denied abusing anyone and has never been criminally charged. He hung up Wednesday when the AP called him for comment.
In a deposition in the late 1990s, Lindner said he didn't recall Lynch or his brother, though the siblings received $625,000 in a 1998 confidential settlement with the Jesuits for alleged abuse by the priest.
Lynch says memories of the priest have tormented him for years, and he struggled through alcohol abuse, depression, nightmares and divorce. He tried to commit suicide twice and told the Los Angeles Times in 2002 that he often thought about confronting Lindner.
Authorities say Lynch acted on that fantasy when he attacked the priest on May 10 after the cleric failed to recognize him at the Jesuits' Sacred Heart retirement home in Los Gatos. Lindner has recovered from the attack.
Lynch refused to discuss the beating in the AP interview last week. However, he said he hopes to use his case to bring attention to Lindner's alleged abuse, as well as to heighten awareness of clergy sex abuse and encourage other victims to come forward.
"He took my faith, he took my innocence, he took my sense of self," Lynch said of Lindner. "He raped me, he tortured me, he violated me in every single way, and he completely changed who I was supposed to be forever."
"I think there's an opportunity here with this media attention that I can possibly ... help people seek justice," Lynch said.
Investigators say they have strong evidence that Lynch carried out the beating. However, defense attorney Pat Harris has countered by suggesting that the priest had many victims and enemies and that any number of people could have attacked him. At least 10 people have accused Lindner of molestation, including family members.
Harris says that could allow the defense to bring the priest's other accusers as witnesses in a trial that would portray Lynch as a sympathetic victim.
Experts say that is unlikely.
"I can understand why he might believe that this might be a good method of shedding light on what happened years ago, but it's unlikely that at trial the evidence of the alleged abuse would be admitted," said Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal and state prosecutor who now teaches law at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law.
"The law does not allow you to go and assault somebody who did something to you 35 years ago."
Prosecutor Vicki Gemetti with the Santa Clara County district attorney's office declined to comment on the case.
The Rev. John McGarry, provincial for the Jesuits of the California Province, said the abuse allegations against Lindner had already been aired publicly.
"The allegations against Rev. Lindner are well-documented and the issue the judge is dealing with now is the assault that took place on our property," McGarry said.
In a federal lawsuit alleging negligence and vicarious liability by the Vatican, Lynch said that in May 1975 Lindner raped and tortured the brothers and forced them to have oral sex with each other while he watched during a camping trip at Portola Redwoods State Park. The suit was filed Oct. 27, two days before Lynch turned himself into the authorities for the alleged beating.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office investigated Lindner eight years ago for allegedly molesting his brother's children years before. But those allegations fell outside the statute of limitations, said William Hodgman, a deputy district attorney, and the probe was dropped when other possible victims refused to cooperate.
Lindner's younger sister and several nieces and nephews have accused Lindner of abuse, as have several women whose families were friendly with him when they were children. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles also settled two cases involving Lindner in its record-breaking $660 million payout in 2007.
Harris said he believes jurors will hear some of the sex allegations at Lynch's trial.
"I will tell you 100 percent we will get in the story of what happened to Will and his brother and I also believe we'll get in the evidence of abuse of others," Harris said.
In the meantime, Harris said he has received hundreds of inquiries from clergy sex abuse victims who want to contribute to a legal defense fund, and he is working on setting up a fund and establishing a website for Lynch's case.
Lynch's mother, Peggy Lynch, was one of those gathered to support her son.
"I certainly hope our son is not punished too strongly for this. We hope this is speaking to the church, because this man ruined the lives of not just the victims, but the families," she said, choking up. "I hope everyone sees these signs and takes them to heart."
Flaccus reported from Los Angeles.