Bearing Witness: The Trial of Jerry Sandusky (Day 5)
After a relaxing long weekend enjoying the company (and Margaritas!) of Kossack Cinnamon, it was back to Bellefonte for day 5 of The People v. Jerry Sandusky. I had hoped that the media circus would have died down a bit, but it seemed to have only increased since last week. Here is a glimpse into the view on the ground:
The atmosphere here is a bit surreal, to say the least.
We started with a few motions from the defense, which were filed before the jury was seated for the day. Defense attorney Rominger asked to have several of the charges against Sandusky dropped for the following reasons:
1.Non-specificity of charges with respect to time frame: The defense argued that because the alleged indecent assaults had occurred over such an extended time frame for some of the victims, the defense did not have a chance to present alibi witnesses. Therefore, Sandusky was being denied due process. a.Prosecutions rebuttal-Cited prior cases where it was ruled that in the case of a serial offender, the exact time of the assaults do not need to be established. 2.Non-specificity of charges with respect to the age of the victims: In the case of victims #2 and #3, the charges were based on eyewitness testimony from Mike McQueary and Ronald Petrosky (the Penn State janitor). The defense argued that neither of these men were qualified to attest the exact age of the victims when they observed them with Mr. Sandusky. Since the charges require that the victim be under the age of 16, this meant that the jury would have to speculate as to the ages of those victims based on the testimony given by both of these men. a.Prosections rebuttal-There is sufficient evidence that the victims seen by both eyewitnesses were under the age of 16. Both of them were described as pre-pubescent. 3.Non-specificity of charges with respect to the acts themselves- Victim #8 testified that he “blacked out” after being hugged by Sandusky and lifted up into the shower head. Victim #2 was seen by Mike McQueary, who testified that he believed that what he had observed was Sandusky anally raping a child-however, he did not see penetration because of his position with respect to Sandusky and the child. a.Prosecutions rebuttal-There is a wide range of acts that can fall into the category of “indecent assault” when it concerns an adult assaulting a child. Also, in rape-murder cases, circumstantial evidence such as the positioning of a body can be used as evidence that a sexual assault occurred before or during the commission of a homicide Jude Cleland ultimately dismissised all of the motions, but not before offering a statement that seemed to portend trouble for the prosecution. He stated that he, too, had his doubts about the strength of the prosecutions case and has from the beginning-but that ultimately he believed that the jury should decide.
I’ve been concerned about this since the beginning,” Cleland said. “There were very broad representations made by the Commonwealth on the bill of particulars. Since then, the Commonwealth has submitted an amended bill of particulars, and amended their information, which I believe now meets the standards of due process. Although early on I certainly was not persuaded that that was the case.”
The prosecution did dismiss one charge against Sandusky- a third degree felony of endangering the welfare of children The encounter involved in the charge occurred in 1995 or 1996, but the statute didn’t apply until 1997.
With all of that out of the way, the prosecution called it’s final witness-the mother of victim #9.
“I just can’t imagine”
((This testimony may be triggering))
Recall that victim #9 is the young man who testified last Thursday that he was forcibly sodomized by Jerry Sandusky on several occasions in his home. He said that he screamed for help, but no one came to his aid.
When his mother sat down, she looked like she was ready to jump right over the witness stand and throttle Jerry Sandusky. Frankly, I wouldn’t blame her if she did.
Lead Prosecutor Joseph McGettigan opened by asking when she first met Sandusky, and how he came into her sons life. She testified that, as is his pattern, they first met when he attended the Second Mile camp. He introduced himself right in front of her and asked if he wanted to spend some time with him. When asked how she felt about this she replied “I thought it was great. He was Jerry Sandusky. He’s a very important person.” She also said that she was relieved to have a place for her son to stay while she worked two jobs, instead of leaving him home alone. Victim #9 began to go to Sandusky’s home frequently starting in 2005, usually spending the night. He would often say he didn’t want to go, but never explained why-so she made him go anyways.
Around this time, Victim #9 began having a slew of problems. Slacking off in school, altered sleep patterns, behavioral issues, stomach problems and complaints of not being able to go to the bathroom. She had him see a therapist, and took him to the doctor who attributed his issues to acid reflux and a case of “bad nerves” (sigh)
On one occasion, Victim #9 called home and asked her to pick him up, saying he was sick. As we learned from his testimony, he was actually being sexually assaulted and in his own words, had “enough of it”. When she showed up at Sanduskys home, it was winter and he wasn’t wearing any shoes. She appeared to be holding back tears as she recalled picking him up that night.
McGeddigan asked her if she knew what was happening in Sandusky’s home. She began to cry. “No” she said. “I just can’t imagine”. She has never asked him because she’s afraid to know-and because she doesn’t think he would be comfortable telling her.
McGettigan asked if she felt responsible. “Yes” she said crying. “Yes, I do.”
McGettigan asked about the gifts Sandusky bought her son. She became noticeably angry at this point, saying that he bought him clothes, sneakers, a rocket ball-and then saying bitterly “I wish he would have just replaced the underwear that I could never find in the laundry”
On cross examination, lead defense attorney Joe Amendola pressed her on the underwear issue-“He never had any underwear” she said. “They always disappeared, it was the oddest thing.” Amendola asked if he ever gave an explaination for this-“He just said he had an accident and had to throw them away”
Recall that on Thursday, Victim #9 testified that he would bleed after being assaulted by Sandusky. Amendola asked him if he had ever sought medical attention, or if his mother had ever seen blood in his underwear. “I just handled it” he said.
After seemingly doing nothing but bolster the prosecutions case, Amendola excused the witness, and the commonwealth rested it’s case.
I will spare you the minutinae of to the parade of defense witnesses who took the stand today, and do a quick recap
Retired Penn State football coach who played and worked with Sandusky. Testified about the demanding coaching schedule at PSU. Said Jerry had a great reputation, was wonderful, well thought of. He was a good coach, and knew how to “read” kids-which ones to go “soft” on, and who to be “firm” with (great terminology Mr. Anderson. Aces.)
Under cross, he was asked if he told an officer in an interview that he had also heard rumors about his inappropriate behavior, but was cut off before he could answer the question. He was asked if he knew about Jerry taking showers with young boys. “Yes” he said-and then added perhaps a bit too enthusiastically “I have also, oh, yes” When pressed on this, he stated that he would often be in the Penn State showers when Sandusky brought Second Mile kids in after a workout. He also said that he used communal showers at the YMCA with children of all ages.
McGettigan asked if he had ever been barred from bringing children onto the Penn State grounds-he said he had not. When confronted with the fact that Sandusky himself had been, he seemed genuinely surprised by this information.
Glenn Mettler A 30 year old man who attended the Second Mile and was mentored by Jerry Sandusky. He was an injured veteran in a wheelchair. He spent the night at Sandusky’s home, and said there had never been inappropriate behavior.
Booker T. Brooks A former Penn State coach with Sandusky and a close personal friend. He testified that Jerry had an “exemplary, top notch” reputuation. He also said that he had showered many times with young children, from the time he was a counselor onward. He also said that he showered with his young granddaughter. When asked his opinion on Sandusky, he said “I think he’s a great guy”
Dr. Linda Caldwell Recalled to answer some banal questions about a form that Sandusky had filled out for a golf tournament.
David Pasquineli-A political consultant who worked at the Second Mile. Testified that Sandusky had a great reputation and was a “local hero”. He opined about how great Jerry was with kids, saying (I kid you not) “I saw a mutual admiration there. He was always goofing around with them, and had a very unique way of relating to them and getting to their level that we could all learn from. He was really very, very good.”
Brett Whitmare-A 2nd grade teacher, and another character witness who knew Victim #4 through an after school program. He said that the boy told him Sandusky was a big part of his life, and he often saw the two interacting.
“Jerry certainly seemed to be an important part of (Victim 4′s) life… He seemed like he had a genuine interest in making sure the kid was moving in the right direction,” he testified.
He relayed an incident in which Sandusky showed up at the youth center to pick up Victim 4, and the boy did not show. Sandusky and the counselor chatted on the steps of the youth center.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to understand when you’re dealing with kids coming from difficult situations sometimes they’re not going to want to meet with you, go with you, and other times they’re going to want to do fun things and play. You just always have to be there for them,’” he recalled, seeming to tear up a bit. “Even as I do social work now I keep that in mind.”
After he was dismissed, Judge Cleland mercifully ended the proceedings for the day, citing “technical difficulties”. Thank the flying spaghetti monster, because I really don’t know how much more of that I could take. Before he dismissed the jury, he informed them that the defense is on track to wrap up its case on Wednesday afternoon, meaning that deliberations will likely start on Thursday. For a trial that was originally set to last 3 and a half weeks, time is flying.
There has been much speculation over what the defense strategy will be-and today really didn’t provide much in the way of answers. The parade of character witnesses was expected, and didn’t provide any new insight. We already knew that Sandusky had an exemplary reputation in the community. This is only a surprise to people who still hold onto the myths of pedophiles as malevolent strangers in wrinkled raincoats. Serial pedophiles like Jerry Sandusky are often quite charming, and go out of their way to appear trustworthy and sincere-this is how they are able to access their victims. Most parents wouldn’t let their children go stay at the home of the town outcast-but someone like Jerry Sandusky? As victim #9’s mother said-“he is an important person”With the defense set to rest on Wedensday at noon, I think it is highly unlikely that Jerry Sandusky will take the stand in his own defense. This is probably a smart move on Amendola’s part. Frankly, I have doubts that Dottie Sandusky will take the stand either-there just doesn’t seem to be enough time, and frankly she is probably worried about facing her own set of legal problems and may not want to say anything that potentially implicates herself.
That leaves the defense with the two other strategies it has talked about-Discrediting the victims, and claiming that Jerry suffers from Histrionic personality disorder.
Really, at this point it seems as if the defense is throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what will stick. And while I think that some of Amendola’s decisions as council have been bizarre and counterintuitive, I really don’t think he has much to work with. If Sandusky pled guilty, he would be facing life in prison. This was his only shot to avoid spending the rest of his life behind bars.
I would warn people not to get too cocky though-no matter how bungled his defense may be, if the jury finds that the commonwealth has failed to prove its charges beyond a reasonable doubt, they have to find him not guilty. And I think there is a substantial risk for that with at least a few of the charges-for the reasons the defense raised in their motions this morning. The non-specificity could be an issue. The length of time that has passed between the assaults and the victims coming forward-some of them well over a decade. The changes in testimony between the initial interviews, the grand jury, and the testimony they gave in this trial. In the age of CSI, the lack of physical evidence. All of these things could potentially create doubt in a juror’s mind.
Look no further than a few hours away in Philidelphia, where the seemingly air tight case against 2 Catholic Priests-one charged with sexually abusing a young boy, the other with covering up the crime-is now entering into it’s 11th day of deliberation. These cases can be very difficult to prosecute.
But if there is anything that will seal Sandusky’s fate, it may be his own words. Even if he never takes the stand, thanks to an interview he gave with Bob Costas, the jury will find among their evidence a transcript where Sandusky says the following:
I don’t know. In terms of — my relationship with so many, many young people. I would — I would guess that there are many young people who would come forward. Many more young people who would come forward and say that my methods and — and what I had done for them made a very positive impact on their life. And I didn’t go around seeking out every young person for sexual needs that I’ve helped. There are many that I didn’t have — I hardly had any contact with who I have helped in many, many ways.”