SAN JOSE (KCBS / CBS 5) — A San Francisco man was acquitted Thursday of assaulting a retired South Bay priest who he claimed had molested him decades ago as a boy.

A Santa Clara County jury found 44-year-old William Lynch not guilty on charges of felony assault and felony elder abuse, and deadlocked on a lesser charge of simple assault stemming from the attack on 67-year-old Rev. Jerold Lindner at a Los Gatos retirement home in May 2010..

READ MORE: COVID Outbreak Among San Jose Police Officers Creates Issues For Patrolling

When the verdicts were read Thursday afternoon, Lynch appeared relieved, smiling and received hugs from his attorneys.

“I’m pleased. I think that justice was served. I’m grateful for the jury’s decision, absolutely,” he told KCBS Radio in an interview outside the courtroom a short time later.

KCBS’ Mike Colgan Reports:

A KPIX-TV CBS 5 poll, conducted by Survey USA, after the verdicts were announced found 73% of Bay Area adults who followed the case agreed with the jury’s decision to acquit; only 20% felt Lynch should have been found guilty of a crime.

RELATED CONTENT: Download Complete CBS 5 Poll Results (.pdf)

Lynch, who admitted to attacking Lindner, claimed Lindner molested him and his brother on a camping trip 37 years ago. After his acquittal, he sounded contrite over the priest beating during the KCBS interview.

“I am regretful for my actions,” said Lynch. “It’s kinda debatable whether I had the right to do that or not. But at the end of the day it wasn’t stopping the cycle of sexual abuse. I needed to come clean and take account for that and I have.”

READ MORE: CHP Arrests Fencing Suspect, Recover Stolen Merchandise From Louis Vuitton Smash-And-Grab

Prosecutors said Lynch acted as a vigilante when he pummeled Lindner with his fists in the 2010 attack and maintained that Lynch’s testimony about his alleged sexual abuse by Lindner was no excuse for beating up the priest years later.

Defense attorneys countered that it was not an act of revenge. Instead, they said Lynch wanted the priest to sign a confession and still felt threatened by him and the memories of the abuse.

Lindner had denied on the witness stand that he molested Lynch.

In closing arguments, the prosecutor, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Vicki Gemetti, repeatedly pointed out to the jury that while they might have felt sympathy for Lynch as a victim of molestation, they couldn’t factor that in deciding their verdict.

Lynch had turned down a plea bargain that would have seen him serve one year in jail. He said it was a gamble turning down the plea deal, but he wanted to bring attention to the issue of priest molestations.

“I wanted to out Father Jerry and the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center and also show victims that they can come forward and tell the truth,” said Lynch.

MORE NEWS: Enrollment Up At Hayward Trucking School As Driver Shortage Fuels Better Pay

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