Attorneys seek mistrial over priest's testimony
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Attorneys representing a California man charged with assaulting a priest who he claims raped him decades ago demanded a mistrial late Friday.
The attorneys have said that a prosecutor committed misconduct in handling the priest's testimony. The defense attorneys accuse the prosecutor of knowingly allowing false testimony, known as "suborning perjury."
Father Jerold Lindner denied under oath on the witness stand Wednesday that he molested William Lynch during a 1975 camping trip.
Lynch has pleaded not guilty to assaulting Lindner in 2010. His attorney, Pat Harris, has succeeded in large measure of turning the assault trial into an expose of Lindner's alleged sexual abuse of Lynch.
The trial began Wednesday in a courtroom filled to capacity with dozens of spectators claiming to be sexual abuse victims of the Catholic Church. Several more demonstrated outside with large signs decrying the church's abuse scandal.
Lindner was even accosted in the court hallway by one of his alleged victims Thursday morning as he tried to enter the courtroom. Debbie Lukas, who settled a lawsuit with the church that alleged Lindner abused her, screamed at him "look me in the eyes" before sheriff's deputies escorted her out of the courthouse.
Harris' call for a mistrial is rooted in Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Vicki Gemetti's opening statement to jurors, which she delivered Wednesday morning.
She told the jury that "the evidence will show" Lindner did molest Lynch. Gemetti predicted Lindner would deny the molestation, but urged the jury to convict Lynch anyway. Harris says that because Gemetti knowingly allowed Lindner to falsely testify, she suborned perjury.
Deputy district attorney Kevin Smith, defending Gemetti and arguing against the mistrial, said in a court filing Friday that prosecutors are allowed to elicit testimony they know to be false as long as they disclose that in advance. Smith said false testimony is often knowingly presented in gang cases and domestic violence trials.
Smith said Gemetti "followed the law to the letter with the utmost candor and professionalism."
Smith also raised the possibility of pursuing misconduct charges against Harris. Smith said it appears that Harris offered to drop his request for misconduct charges against Gemetti if her office dropped the criminal case.
Smith provided transcripts of a brief text message conversation between Harris and Gemetti late Wednesday night discussing the priest's testimony. Harris tells Gemetti that he doesn't want to pursue misconduct charges against her.
"Please talk to your boss and get rid of this case," Harris texted. "I don't want to have to do this."
The next morning, the two met with the judge where Harris said he wouldn't need to pursue the misconduct charges against Gemetti if the case was dismissed, according to Gemetti's declaration filed with the court late Friday. Harris also told Gemetti and the judge that "people were emailing him about reporting my actions" to the State Bar of California, according to Gemetti's declaration.
Smith said the district attorney's office would leave it to the judge to "determine whether the unfounded accusations of prosecutorial conduct in this case, and the reference to not pursuing this motion in exchange for the (district attorney's) dismissal of this case...merit sanctions or a referral to the State Bar."
Harris said the misconduct allegations raised against him were a "sadly desperate attempt" to deflect attention from Gemetti's handling of Lindner's testimony.
"It is laughable that my text to Ms. Gemetti is misconduct," Harris said. "I have been begging her for a dismissal, as any defense attorney would do since day one."
Judge David Cena will consider the requests Monday morning. If he declines to declare a mistrial, the priest is expected to resume testifying.