Close of Sandusky trial may be only the beginning of more legal proceedings
BELLEFONTE, Pa. (MCT) — They kept their silence for years. They thought no one would believe them, that their cries for help would go unanswered.
But with Jerry Sandusky’s conviction on 45 counts of child sex abuse Friday, the former Pennsylvania State University football coach’s young accusers received a resounding message: You have been heard.
The trial’s end closed an ugly chapter in the history of one of the state’s most prominent universities, but in many ways, Friday’s verdict serves only as a beginning.
Others remain to be tried in court, civil lawsuits are sure to follow, and a handful of ongoing investigations promise to expose more damning details.
Those reverberations began to ripple across the state Saturday as Sandusky’s attorneys discussed a likely appeal while jockeying to explain what went wrong with their defense.
“We told the trial court, the Superior Court, and the Supreme Court we were not prepared to proceed to trial,” Joseph Amendola said. “This was a daunting, daunting case.”
Meanwhile, his client remained behind bars, awaiting a sentencing hearing expected to send him to prison for life.
But as she basked in the glow of television cameras Friday night on the steps of the Centre County Courthouse, state Attorney General Linda Kelly kept the focus on those who made Sandusky’s conviction possible.
“One of the recurring themes in this case was, ‘Who would believe a kid?’” she said. “The answer is: We in Bellefonte, Pa., would believe a kid.’”
Jurors said Saturday the young men’s consistent and compelling stories left them “all on the same page” when it came time to decide Sandusky’s fate.
“We pretty quickly agreed on certain victims that he was guilty,” juror Josh Harper, a 33-year-old schoolteacher, said in an interview Saturday with NBC’s “Today. “The testimony was very credible, and we saw a corroborating story among all of them.”
That story unfolded over eight days as witness after witness detailed years of horrific abuse they endured in locker-room showers, far-flung hotel rooms, and the basement of Sandusky’s house in State College.
One accuser — identified in court documents as Victim 4 — testified that the former coach abused him for years, ensuring his cooperation with lavish gifts and trips to bowl games. When he tried to break off contact, Sandusky pursued him with “creepy love letters,” he said.
Another told jurors Sandusky had threatened him and his family if he ever reported his abuse.
And, in perhaps the trial’s most chilling detail, the 18-year-old known as Victim 9 said his cries for help as Sandusky sodomized him in a basement went unanswered as the former coach’s wife slept upstairs.
Jurors also heard accounts of abuse involving two other victims who remain unknown to investigators — most famously from Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary, whose tale of encountering Sandusky sodomizing a boy in a locker-room shower became a linchpin of the prosecution’s case.
Harper told NBC that watching Sandusky’s reaction as each of the guilty counts was read in court only solidified his confidence that he and his fellow jurors had made the right decision.
“The look on his face — with no real emotion,” he said. “He was just accepting it because it was true.”
But at times, blockbuster developments outside the courtroom threatened to overshadow the drama unfolding within.
Hours after jurors began their deliberations, Sandusky’s youngest adopted son, Matt, alleged publicly that he, too, was a victim of molestation at his father’s hand and that he had offered to testify for the prosecution.
Reflecting on the verdict late Friday, Amendola said that moment sank Sandusky’s defense.
He said his client fully intended to take the stand hoping to convince jurors of his innocence in a last-ditch effort. But the idea was abandoned once prosecutors threatened to call the former coach’s son as a rebuttal witness should Sandusky testify, Amendola said.
Prosecutors disputed that version of events Saturday. Sources close to the attorney general’s investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly said Amendola knew well in advance that Sandusky’s son would not be a prosecution witness.
Defense co-counsel Karl Rominger offered yet a third explanation on his weekly radio show on Harrisburg radio station WHP. He said he and Amendola knew of prosecutors’ potential surprise witness days earlier and threatened to move for a mistrial if he were called.
Rominger blamed Sandusky’s conviction on a defense effort so plagued by other problems that it had no shot at succeeding, chief among them the rushed pace of the seven-month run-up to trial.
He and Amendola were so unprepared, he said, that they threw together a potential witness list hours before jury selection was set to begin.
Days before the trial was to start, he and Amendola asked to be dismissed from the case because they felt too unprepared to offer an adequate defense, he said.
But despite that frenzied pace, the defense managed to score some points with jurors. The panel acquitted Sandusky of three counts, including the most serious charge connected to McQueary’s account of the boy he said he saw Sandusky attacking in a campus shower.
Although jurors said they believed his testimony that what he saw was “wrong and extremely sexual,” McQueary’s inability to definitively say he saw penetration failed to convince them that Sandusky should be convicted of rape.
But as big a role as that testimony played in the trial, McQueary’s account is likely to loom only larger as focus now shifts to the aftermath of Sandusky’s conviction.
Longtime football coach Joe Paterno, who died in January, and former university president Graham B. Spanier lost their jobs for failing to do more once they learned of McQueary’s allegations in 2001.
Former athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a former university vice president, are expected to stand trial next year on charges that they downplayed what McQueary told them about seeing and later lied about their actions to a grand jury.
Spanier, too, may soon join them in court. Although prosecutors declined to charge him after Sandusky’s arrest last year, grand jurors have now focused their attention on e-mail exchanges between the former president and his advisers about how they should respond to accusations against Sandusky.
All three men dealing with the investigation have said McQueary never clearly explained to them the severity of what he saw.
Sandusky’s conviction and the jurors’ belief in McQueary’s story are also likely to factor in to civil lawsuits the former coach’s victims are expected to file in coming months.
Already, six of the eight accusers who testified against Sandusky at trial have retained lawyers. And two other purported victims who were not part of the state’s case have filed suits against the university for an alleged failure to act.
As though sensing the coming onslaught, the university almost immediately after the verdict announcement Friday signaled its openness to quickly settle potential lawsuits.
“No verdict can undo the pain and suffering caused by Mr. Sandusky, but we do hope this judgment helps the victims and their families along their path to healing,” university president Rodney Erickson said. “We have tremendous respect for the men who came forward to tell their stories publicly.”
(Inquirer staff writer Susan Snyder contributed to this article.)