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Bearing Witness: Truth & Justice on a Friday Night (Verdict)

It was 8:32 PM, when I was stirred from a fitful sleep by a phone call from Roxine. “Looks like something’s going on at the courthouse” she said. “Any news?”

I rubbed my eyes, squinted at my Twitter feed. 140 new Tweets.

Joe Amendola in judge’s chambers

Court Stenographer returned to the building

Attorney General Linda Kelly just walked in the back of the courthouse

Lots of buzzing in the crowd at Centre County

Rumor has it there will be a Friday night verdict

I let out a heavy sigh. This was driving me nuts. All day long, I had been in limbo-Sitting on the courthouse steps or glued to the Twitter feed, trying to get clues as to when the verdict would come down. The media was given a 20 minute notice-but members on the public had to rely on word of mouth.

And so it was that around 9PM I found myself walking, for the 3rd time, that 5 block stretch between my room and the Centre County courthouse-this time, in my pajamas and feeling more than a little irritated.

Hours earlier, I had arrived at Centre County courthouse at 6AM trying to beat the crowds for a public pass. The crowds here have been growing steadily, with occasional fights breaking out over places in line, seats, and the like. I didn’t want to take any chances. I was number 23.

After the mornings proceedings (which consisted of lawyers from both sides re-enacting testimony for the jury) I had spent the day wandering around Bellefonte aimlessly, playing the usual game of hurry up and wait. I was in the library when Roxine called me. “I’m seeing on Twitter they are announcing a verdict at 2″ she said.

“What?”

I checked Twitter-lo and behold, there was a flurry of activity

#Sandusky verdict will be announced at 2.

I looked at the clock-it was 1:48. I posted a one sentence diary announcing the news, and took off running. Almost ripping the soles off of my flip flops I ran the 3 blocks to the courthouse, yelling “Verdict is in!” like Paul Revere in his midnight ride. Soon I had a group of people running behind me. I rounded the corner to the courthouse lawn and then stopped dead in my tracks. Instead of a media swarm and chaos, everything was perfectly calm. “Is a verdict in?” I asked one of the 50 or so cameramen who was walking around. He looked at me quizzically, and shook his head.

False alarm.

It wasn’t the first time. The night before, rumors had spread like wildfire that the jurors had cancelled their hotel rooms, and that a verdict would be in before sundown. I rushed to the courthouse at 9, but all it amounted to was the jury determining the next day’s schedule, and asking to review some evidence. So as I took that walk down South Allegheny street, I was resigned to the fact that this would be yet another disappointment.

I saw the lights from 3 blocks away-a noticeable increase in the media presence. When I rounded the corner, I saw the front steps of the courthouse packed with people spilling out onto the lawn. I made my way through the crowd, seeing a few eye me jealously as I took my public pass out of my pocket. “I’ll buy that off you for $100″ offered a man by the door. I shook my head, and walked inside.

I took my place in the 3rd pew from the back. The room was full, but not packed.

A man and his wife sat down beside me. “Any news?” I asked, but he shook his head. “Nothing yet. We just heard he was back inside the courtroom, and something might be going down.”

Men with suits began to line the aisles, hands folded and looking somber. A nervous energy started to fill the room. My hands began to shake, my teeth began to chatter and I felt the wave of heat and nausea wash over me that usually precedes a panic attack. I excused myself from the gallery and went to the small lobby outside, trying to calm down. I looked out the window, down at the courthouse lawn with the bright lights and gathering crowd. That’s when it hit me that this might be the real deal.

I went back inside and took my seat. “Are you OK?” asked the man next to me. I nodded, but then I began to cry. “I’m sorry” I said. “I’m just so nervous”. Every time the doors to the back of the courtroom opened, everyone in the gallery would turn around-looking anxiously to see who was coming in.

At about 9:30, Victim #6 walked in, flanked by a middle aged man and woman. He was dressed casually, and his eyes were fixed up at the clock, a nervous smile on his face. He sat down a few rows in front of me. He closed his eyes and let out a sigh. The woman next to him squeezed his shoulder.

The door opened to a small room next to the judge’s chambers. Dottie Sandusky and 4 of her children filed in. The courtroom fell silent as they took their seats in the front row, behind the defense table, sitting among a small group of supporters.

The bailiff walked in and stood at the front of the court. “All rise” he said, and I felt my knees shaking as I rose to my feet. Judge Cleland emerged from chambers, his robes billowing behind him as he took his perch on the bench. “Court is in session, you may be seated” he said. He told the court reporter to record the time-9:52.

“Ladies and gentleman” he said, “The jury has informed me that they have reached a verdict”

My heart began to pound so hard and fast in my ears that I could barely make out what he said next.

“Before we begin, I need to address something. I realize there is a lot of interest in this case. But this is a court of law, and I expect you to behave accordingly. There are to be no emotional outbursts of any kind, for any reason, while this verdict is read. If you violate this order, I will order one of the sheriff’s deputies to arrest you immediately and remove you from the courtroom. Is that understood?”

Nods, and murmurs of “yes, your honor”

Judge Cleland then asked for the jury to be brought in.

I watched intently as the 5 women and 7 men filed in-looking to see if they made eye contact with Jerry Sandusky. Only two did-A clean cut young man who is around the same age as the victims who testified, and a woman old enough to be one of their mothers.

Judge Cleland asked Jerry Sandusky if he was prepared to hear the verdict. “Yes your honor” he said-and it struck me, this was the first time I had ever heard his voice after sitting in the courtroom with him for 2 weeks.

Judge Cleland asked Jerry Sandusky and his team to stand to hear the verdict. As I saw him standing, slumped over slightly in his rust colored suit, I wondered what was going through his mind. How does it feel to stand there, waiting to find out if you would be spending the rest of your life in prison?

Juror #4, a man with greying hair and a blue checkered shirt, was the elected foreperson. He stood up, and the room became eerily still as he began to read from the paper in his hands. He read the first charge.

I closed my eyes and pictured the young man I saw testify last Tuesday. Victim #1-the first one to speak out. The skinny kid from the wrong side of the tracks who did what so many large and powerful people had failed to do-he stopped the monster.

((Descriptions may be triggering)) I remember his haunting eyes, how small he looked on the witness stand, the way his body shook with sobs as he told the packed courtroom how he was abused, how he hid underneath the pool table and in closets, trying to get away. How he finally told a school counselor, but they didn’t believe him.

Count 1: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Guilty.

Count 2: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Guilty.

Count 3: Indecent assault

Guilty.

Count 4: Unlawful contact with minors

Guilty.

Count 5: Corruption of minors

Guilty.

Count 6: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty, as a course of conduct

I let out my breath, which I had been holding the whole time. Guilty, I thought. He’s going to prison. Now it’s just a question of how long.

And with each subsequent count that was read, I closed my eyes and pictured the victim it applied to.

Victim #2-The little boy who was pinned against the wall of the shower, being raped by Jerry Sandusky. Who looked up and saw a man who was there to save him-”He looked up at me, like he was surprised to see me in there” Mike McQueary said. But then he walked away.

Count 7: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Not Guilty

Count 8: Indecent assault

Guilty.

Count 9: Unlawful contact with minors

Guilty.

Count 10: Corruption of minors

Guilty.

Count 11: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty, as a course of conduct.

Victim #3-The combat veteran who was mentored, then abused, and then abandoned by Jerry Sandusky when he became too old for his liking. “I’m mad” he said. “I’m enraged, I’m hurt … he could just forget about me like I was nothing after I was sent away.”

Count 12: Indecent assault

Guilty.

Count 13: Unlawful contact with minors

Guilty.

Count 14: Corruption of minors

Guilty.

Count 15: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty, as a course of conduct

Victim #4-The 28 year old man who was both a surrogate son and a victim of Jerry Sandusky. I pictured him as the investigators described him when they went to his home-curled up into the fetal position on the end of his couch.

Count 17: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Guilty.

Count 20: Indecent assault

Guilty.

Count 21: Unlawful contact with minors

Guilty.

Count 22: Corruption of minors

Guilty.

Count 23: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty.

Victim #5-The soft spoken young man, who cried-along with his family who were seated in the gallery-as he told the story of the one time he found himself alone with Jerry Sandusky. The terror he felt as he tried to get away from him. “I felt his body on my back. I kept lurching forward but I didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Count 24: Indecent assault

Not Guilty

Count 25: Unlawful contact with minors

Guilty.

Count 26: Corruption of minors

Guilty.

Count 27: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty, as a course of conduct.

Victim #6-The young man whose mother called University police in 1998 after her son came home with wet hair, who couldn’t remember what happened to him after he was lifted into the shower head. Since he was in the courtroom, I looked at him when his verdict was read. He sat with his eyes closed, and appeared to be praying, silently.

Count 28: Indecent assault

Not Guilty

Count 29: Unlawful contact with minors

Guilty.

Count 30: Corruption of minors

Guilty.

Count 31: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty, as a course of conduct.

Victim #7-The young man who was tiny as a little boy-the size of an 8 year old when he was 12. The boy who resisted Sandusky’s grooming, and then felt rejected and ostracized by him. I thought I had done something wrong, he said.

Count 32: Criminal attempt to commit indecent assault

Guilty

Count 34: Corruption of minors

Guilty

Count 35: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty, as a course of conduct.

Victim #8-The boy that a Penn State janitor saw being sexually abused in the shower by Jerry Sandusky. I saw him as I pictured him in my mind, as I heard the testimony of Ronald Petrosky. “I saw him take the little boys hand, and then the two of them walked away

Count 36: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Guilty

Count 37: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Guilty.

Count 38: Unlawful contact with minors

Guilty.

Count 39: Corruption of minors

Guilty.

Count 40: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty, as a course of conduct.

Victim #9-The 18 year old boy who looked so young and vulnerable as he took the stand. Who said he screamed for help when he was getting raped in Jerry Sandusky’s basement, but no one ever came. Who said that he bled after his attacks, but took care of it himself. He tried so hard to be tough and get through it alone.

Count 41: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Guilty

Count 42: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Guilty

Count 43: Indecent assault

Guilty

Count 44: Unlawful contact with minors

Guilty

Count 45: Corruption of minors

Guilty

Count 46: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty, as a course of conduct.

(I had been holding it together relatively well, but when this verdict came down I couldn’t hold it in. I let out a choked sob that seemed to reverberate through the courtroom, much to my embarrassment.)

Victim #10-The foster kid who was told he would never see his family again if he didn’t do what Jerry wanted. He went on to a life of crime, but then got his act together, got married, and is expecting his first child. I pictured him cradling his newborn in his arms, putting his mouth to his ear and whispering softly “I would never hurt you”

Count 47: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Guilty

Count 48: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse

Guilty

Count 49: Indecent assault

Guilty

Count 50: Unlawful contact with minors

Guilty

Count 51: Corruption of minors

Guilty

Count 52: Endangering welfare of children

Guilty, as a course of conduct.

Guilty.

45 times, said with conviction. Each time, reverberating through the courtroom.

Of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Of indecent assault. Of unlawful contact. Of corruption of a minor. Of endangering the welfare of children.

Guilty.

Of preying on the most vulnerable-Children without fathers, in desolate little towns, in foster homes, trailer parks, public housing projects. Children who didn’t think they would be heard or believed if they came forward. Each time that word was read, an affirmation.

Guilty.

We saw you.

Guilty.

We heard you.

Guilty.

We believed you.

When the foreman finished reading the verdicts, I looked up. Jerry Sandusky was facing the jury, stone faced and ashen, his shoulders slumped. His condemnation had taken 8 agonizing minutes.

“Mr. Sandusky” said Judge Cleland “You have been found guilty by a jury of your peers”

Karl Romminger requested a poll of the jury. One by one, they were asked if they heard and agreed with the verdict that was read. All of them answered yes, firmly.

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

DA McGeddigan then moved to have bond revoked. Judge Cleland asked if Sandusky’s council would like to respond.

Amendola rose to his feet, and said that Jerry Sandusky had been living in his home as he awaited the trial, and had caused no problems during that time. He also had “no criminal history” and was a long term resident of the community in good standing and owned his home.

I had to bite my lip to keep myself from screaming.

A member of the community in good standing, except that his good standing was an illusion he created so that he could have access to young children.

“He has a heart of gold. He’s a hero for what he did for those kids. He would never do anything like that”

Good standing predicated on being the defensive coordinator for Penn State-which he used to lure young boys into his trap.

“You want to go to a game with me some time?”

No criminal history because he was Jerry Sandusky, and nobody would touch him.

A homeowner who built a finished basement like an arcade, which led to a bedroom he turned into a torture chamber.

“No one can hear you down there”

A community member in good standing. A serial child predator. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Judge Cleland paused, and drew in a breath.

“The commonwealth’s request is granted” he said, “bail is revoked”. He ordered the bailiff and another official to take him into custody. He managed a small wave to his wife before he was led out of the courtroom.

Judge Cleland thanked the jury for their service, and dismissed them-and then dismissed the rest of the gallery.

As I rose from my seat, I took one last look at Victim #6 -who lay his forehead on the back of the bench in front of him, and began to sob uncontrollably. His family rushed over to comfort him. You did good, I thought. Be proud.

As soon as I got through the door, I bolted down the stairs-needing to get outside for some air, because I felt like I was going to faint. I wasn’t even thinking about the crowd outside, so when I opened the courtroom door I stopped dead in my tracks, confronted by this:

I realized then that everyone was staring at me with anticipation-and that’s when it occurred to me that they didn’t know the verdict. “Guilty” I shouted, and as a cheer erupted I ducked down and ran to the side of the courtroom, and proceeded to burst into tears. Later on, I found out that many in the crowd thought I was a Sandusky supporter because of my reaction.

After I calmed down enough to call Roxine and tell her the news, I filmed this video on my phone (I’m kind of embarrassed by it, but oh well)

That sign, by the way, said “Tax the Amish”. There was another sign that said “The Pope controls Long John Silvers”. They were being paraded around by a group of 20-something guys who I suppose thought that would be funny. A few minutes after I filmed that, they came on to the courthouse steps and were parading around like idiots. I had already reached my boiling point with the circus atmosphere-people walking around with signs advertising their websites, dressing up in costumes, selling merchandise, walking around with T-shirts on that said “Release the tickle monster” (a reference to something Sandusky said to victim #6 before he sexually abused him) and I snapped. I didn’t scream at them or make a scene, but told them in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t a joke, wasn’t appropriate, and that they basically needed to get the fuck out of there. Later on, someone who I was told is a friend of one of the victims ripped one of the signs out of their hands and stomped on it. They went away after that.

So yes, I was happy that justice was done. But I didn’t have that sense of elation or relief that so many in the crowd seemed to be experiencing. I was shaken by what I had just seen and heard.

I have sat through this trial for 2 weeks. At a certain point, the mundaneness of the legal process as it chugs along begins to distance you from the underlying realities. But being in that courtroom, mere feet away from a man as he was led off to prison for the rest of his life, it hit me. It’s not that I have sympathy for Jerry Sandusky. But in that moment, it was impossible not to see him as a human being. It was impossible not to have a twinge of empathy.

I just wanted to ask him, why? Why did you do this? What possesses you to hurt a child? Do you have any remorse at all? The same questions that have haunted me for 17 years still hung in the air. I knew I would never get an answer.

And no, it should have never come to this. There should not be 50 news trucks outside, or bright lights, or cheering crowds. There should have never been 52 charges, or 10 victims appearing in court. They should have listened to Matt Sandusky’s mother in 1994, or Victim #6′s mother in 1998. We wouldn’t be here if Mike McQueary had called 911 in 2001, or any one of the powerful men at that powerful institution that Jerry Sandusky used as his personal playground who knew what he was doing in the locker rooms at night. It should have never come to this-but it did. It made for a hollow victory, and one I was not keen on celebrating in that moment for it had come at much too high a cost. And it certainly didn’t feel like what so many there were calling it. “Closure”.

I spent some time talking to the people I had met here in Bellefonte. There were many hugs, many tears, and many somber moments. We joined hands and had a group prayer for the victims. I did a couple interviews. After about an hour or so, I began the long walk back “home”.

It was during that solitary walk that it occurred to me-that tonight was the five month anniversary of Joe Paterno’s death. And that also meant it was 5 months since the day I wrote the diary that changed my life. The bravery of those young men who came forward was the catalyst for me to finally break 17 years of silence. And here I was, 5 months later. I could have never imagined I would be here, on this night, bearing witness to justice for those same young men. It felt like I had come full circle.

And that’s when I realized why I had been hit so hard by the verdict of victim #9 that I let out that embarrassing sob. It was because of what he said when asked why he never told anyone-the same question that keeps so many of us silent as children.

“Who would believe a kid?” he had asked.

And tonight, finally, we had an answer.

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