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South Bay Priest Assault Trial Resumes After Lawyers Trade Barbs

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Will Lynch booking photo. (Santa Clara County Sheriff)

Will Lynch booking photo. (Santa Clara County Sheriff)

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SAN JOSE (CBS / AP) — The priest accused of molesting children has “pleaded the fifth.” The judge has stricken his testimony and denials of abuse from the trial record.

Three of the priest’s alleged victims are no longer allowed to testify. And the man on trial for beating the priest he says raped him will be limited in what he can tell the jury when called to the witness stand.

KCBS’ Mike Colgan Reports:

After several emergency meetings in chambers, traded barbs of professional misconduct, and defense demands for a mistrial stemming from the priest’s alleged false testimony, Judge David Cena for the first time in nearly a week convened trial on time and without legal rancor Wednesday.

William Lynch, 44, is charged with assaulting retired Catholic priest Jerold Lindner on May 10, 2010, at a Los Gatos home for priests accused and convicted of sexual misconduct. Lynch claims Lindner raped him and his brother during a 1975 camping trip in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Lynch was 7 years old, and his brother was three years younger at the time. The brothers earlier settled a lawsuit over the allegations for $625,000.

Lindner invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and is refusing to testify after briefly appearing on the witness stand June 20. He testified that Lynch attacked him while the two were alone in a private room off the home’s lobby. Lindner denied molesting Lynch and his brother, a denial that even prosecutors say is a lie.

The day after he told jurors that Lynch attacked him, Lindner came to court with a lawyer and “took the fifth.” The judge then instructed the jury to disregard Lindner’s testimony, prompting Lynch’s lawyers to demand a mistrial, arguing Lynch was deprived of his right to confront his accuser.

The judge denied that request and a previous mistrial demand made after comments by Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Vicki Gemetti during her opening statements. Gemetti told jurors she fully expected Lindner to lie about the abuse, but she said they should convict Lynch anyway.

Lynch’s attorney Pat Harris accused Gemetti of “suborning” perjury and professional misconduct. The district attorney’s office countered with its own accusation of misconduct. Prosecutors objected to Harris offering to drop his pursuit of misconduct charges against Gemetti in exchange for dropping Lynch’s criminal case.

In the end, the judge denied all requests and ordered the trial to resume. However, he did ban the testimony of three other Lindner accusers, including Lynch’s brother and the priest’s niece, who were set to tell jurors of their own abuse. The judge had earlier said they could testify to impeach the priest’s credibility. But since the priest is not testifying, the alleged victims’ testimony is no longer relevant.

Tamara Roehm, Lindner’s niece, said outside court Wednesday that she was crestfallen that the jury wouldn’t hear about her allegations. She said it was difficult to work up the courage to take the stand and publicly discuss her alleged abuse, but she felt Lynch needed the support. She also said she was looking forward to “exposing Jerry,” who has never been criminally charged but has been removed from the ministry.

“I wanted to get the truth out about Jerry,” Roehm said. “Instead, he gets away without having to explain himself again.”

Lynch is accused of phoning the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, giving an alias and saying he was driving down the next day to deliver news of a death in the family to Lindner. The next day, prosecutors charge, Lynch showed up at the center wearing gloves and pummeled Lindner after he was summoned from his room. Lynch has pleaded not guilty to assaulting Lindner.

Since Lynch and Lindner were alone during much of the incident at issue, defense attorneys are attempting to undermine the priest’s credibility to plant doubt in jurors’ minds of what happened between them. The prosecutor, on the other hand, is trying to keep jurors focused narrowly on the events of May 10, 2010. She’s implored jurors to ignore Lindner’s “past sins and crimes” and convict Lynch of assault. She’s accused him of attempting to carry out “vigilante justice.”

Inside court Wednesday, a health-care worker at the home where Lindner lived testified that she witnessed Lynch punch Lindner twice.

Mary Eden said she heard Lynch scream that Lindner had raped him and his brother and ruined their lives. She said she also heard Lynch say Lindner had forced him to sexually abuse his brother, a claim consistent with statements Lynch has made to authorities.

On cross examination, Eden said she was hazy on some of the details of the alleged incident. She initially told police that Lynch fled the room before she arrived to find an injured Lindner. On the witness stand, she said Lynch was in the room when she entered.

“It was stressful,” Eden said of some of her inconsistencies. “It was a high-stress situation.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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