Some are wracked by guilt, others fueled by frustration. But a close-knit group of supporters will be there for Will Lynch on Wednesday as his trial begins over charges he pummeled a Catholic priest he says molested him and his brother decades ago during a religious group's camping trip.
More than a dozen parents and children who regularly joined the Lynches on those trips 35 years ago are streaming in from El Centro, Albany and as far away as Oregon to stand behind the man they knew as a vulnerable little boy.
"Certainly, we have some feelings of guilt,'' said Paul Smith, 77, who helped found the Christian group with his wife, a former nun. "We invited a priest to say mass on Sundays, and, unfortunately, we chose Father Jerry.''
Prosecutors contend Lynch, now 44, took revenge on the priest, Jerold Lindner, whom the Jesuits have acknowledged is on a list of molesters living at the Sacred Heart retirement and medical center in Los Gatos. In a fit of rage on May 10, 2010, they say, Lynch allegedly pummeled Lindner, who was 65, while yelling, "Turn yourself in or I'll (expletive) come back and kill you."
Lindner, who has denied molesting Lynch and Lynch's then-4-year-old brother, suffered multiple bruises and required stitches to close two cuts above his left eye and left ear.
The defendant is charged with two felonies that together carry a maximum sentence of four years -- assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily
Lindner to testify
In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, Lynch said he chose to go to trial rather than negotiate a plea bargain for no more than a year in jail because he considers it the only way to expose the priest's alleged wrongdoing.
Lindner cannot be prosecuted on charges he raped Lynch, who was 7 at the time, because the alleged molestation took place in the 1970s. By the time Lynch reported it about 20 years later, the six-year statute of limitations of that era had elapsed.
That frustrates some of the people who used to go camping with the Lynches in the Santa Cruz Mountains, including a woman who won a multimillion-dollar settlement after she sued the Jesuits claiming that Lindner also raped her on the trips.
The former campers are eager to see Lindner put on the spot, which could occur early in the trial if the prosecution calls him to the stand.
"Jerry is still living a life of ease, with access to children who go to school in the area,'' said Christina, a former camper who lives in the East Bay and asked that her last name not be published. "We're coming out of support for the family and frustration with the legal system.''
Christina said the group rallied around Lynch when he broke his 20-year silence and revealed the sexual assault.
"When this first came out, none of us were surprised -- Father Jerry was a creep,'' she said, adding that he used to come to her home for group gatherings. "He used to just sit on my bed. But the parents were thrilled he always wanted to say good night prayers with the children.''
Lindner will first be questioned by prosecutor Vicki Gemetti, who is expected to focus on the assault at the Jesuit center. Gemetti declined to comment but has said of the case, "Our laws exist to protect all members of society, regardless of who the victim is."
On the other hand, Lynch's attorney, Pat Harris, will try to nail Lindner on his alleged history of pedophilia. If the priest denies it, legal observers say the defense lawyer could use it to cast doubt on the priest's credibility, including his account of the clash with Lynch.
Lindner was removed from active ministry in Los Angeles in 1997 in response to a civil suit filed by Lynch that year. The Jesuits paid Lynch and his brother a $625,000 settlement; after the legal fees, they each got about $187,000.
Some of the campers say their presence at the trial shouldn't be misinterpreted. They don't condone violence.
"What Will did wasn't right,'' said Jim Mullarkey, a retired Albany electrician. "But I certainly understand his frustration and anxiety that brought him to that point. My kids were on that camp-out -- it could very well have been them.''
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.