By Jeremy Roebuck, The Philadelphia Inquirer –
For months, others have spoken for a collection of young men whose accusations have brought Jerry Sandusky to grief.
As prosecutors tell their stories, the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach subjected each to horrific and sustained sexual abuse. He lavished them with gifts, ingratiated himself into their families, earned their trust — and then ultimately betrayed it.
Sandusky’s defense offers a different take: His accusers, many of whom have known one another since boyhood, conspired to bring down a local sports and philanthropic icon for personal gain. And perhaps not all of the alleged victims prosecutors have identified even exist.
This week, some of those young men, identified thus far only by numbers in court filings, will come one step closer to speaking, for the first time publicly, for themselves.
“I don’t know of another human being on earth who is more looking forward to putting this chapter behind him than my client,” said Benjamin Andreozzi, a lawyer representing the boy identified in court documents as Victim 4.
On Tuesday, jury selection is set to begin in a Bellefonte courtroom in a case that has made headlines across the state and nation and cast a university into crisis.
So far, the allegations against Sandusky have brought down four of Penn State’s top administrators, including university president Graham B. Spanier and famed longtime football coach Joe Paterno.
They have tarnished the reputation of a championship football program once known nationwide for its integrity. And they have divided a nation of alumni and fans, each with his or her own opinions on whether the university did enough when allegations surfaced against one of their own.
Although those questions of institutional responsibility have dominated the conversation since Sandusky’s arrest in November on 52 counts of sexual abuse, ultimately none of them should matter to the 12 people who will be impaneled to weigh his guilt or innocence.
At its core, the case is a classic child-sex-crime prosecution like hundreds of others that play out in courtrooms across the nation each year, said Michael J. Engle, past president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
“The only question is whether the commonwealth can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Sandusky did the things they are accusing him of,” he said.
And, by now, the accusations are as well-known as the accused.
Prosecutors allege that over 15 years, Sandusky molested at least 10 boys, each of whom he met through the Second Mile, the charity for underprivileged youth he founded in 1977. Many of the alleged incidents happened on the main Penn State campus or on official football team trips.
As prosecutors tell the story, Sandusky targeted boys awed by the aura of Penn State athletics. Many came from homes with absent parents or steeped in poverty. He took them on trips, gave them computers, sporting equipment, and tickets to football games. He worked his way into their lives and gave them access to a world they could only otherwise dream of.
And then, he allegedly abused them over and over again.
“This is a case about a sexual predator who used his position within the university and community to repeatedly prey on young boys,” Attorney General Linda Kelly said days after Sandusky’s arrest.
Though only eight accusers are expected to take the stand, court filings note as many as 17 have come forward.
Sandusky has consistently denied the allegations in court and in unorthodox pretrial media interviews.
Though conceding he gave money to disadvantaged boys, wrestled, roughhoused, and at times even showered with them, Sandusky has consistently said his actions had been misunderstood.
“They’ve taken everything that I ever did for any young person and twisted it to say that my motives were sexual,” Sandusky told the New York Times in December.
At times, though, his demeanor on camera has only stoked the flames of critical public opinion.
In an interview with NBC’s Bob Costas days after his arrest, Sandusky hesitated for several seconds when asked whether he was sexually attracted to young boys. Eventually, he responded: “No.”
On the stand at a pretrial hearing in January, the 68-year-old laughed nervously, often seemed unsure of himself, and frequently glanced at his attorney, Joseph Amendola, for approval.
Those early gaffes and a persona his attorney has described as that of a “big kid” suggest Sandusky could prove a poor witness in his own defense should he take the stand. Amendola has not said whether he intends to call his client to testify.
But putting a convincing and believable defendant in front of a jury can be one of the most valuable defense tools a lawyer has, Engle said.
“This case obviously isn’t the norm,” he said. “But given that Mr. Sandusky has already said certain things publicly, he might as well explain himself before the jury.”
Barred by a judicial gag order, Amendola was not available to comment. However, in the months leading up to trial, he has outlined a defense strategy aimed at challenging the credibility of the accusers.
Many of the young men, he has said in interviews and court filings, have extensive juvenile records or a history of psychological instability. Some have known one another for years, and Amendola has theorized they dreamed up the story to tell prosecutors.
The accusers’ troubled pasts, prosecutors counter, are emblematic of the effects of sex crimes, symptoms that show as victims struggle to come to terms with their abuse.
The state faces other hurdles in securing a conviction — chief among them the fact that in two instances, they have yet to identify alleged victims.
The best-known by now is the young man identified in court filings as Victim 2.
According to the grand jury presentment, Mike McQueary, a Penn State graduate assistant, walked in on Sandusky sodomizing a boy about 10 years old in a locker-room shower in 2002.
The account details McQueary’s efforts to report what he saw to Paterno and eventually former athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the university vice president in charge of its police department.
But in public statements and testimony since, McQueary has shifted the details of what he says he saw and how explicit he was when detailing the alleged incident to his superiors.
At a hearing last year for Curley and Schultz, both of whom now face charges of failing to report child abuse related to that alleged incident, McQueary testified that he never witnessed a sexual act. Instead, he described hearing sex and later seeing Sandusky and the boy naked together in the showers.
Then, last month, prosecutors filed a motion saying McQueary’s earlier recollection of when he allegedly saw Sandusky was wrong. The alleged incident happened a year earlier, in 2001, they said.
Without a victim to corroborate the story, McQueary’s testimony will not stand up on its own, Amendola has argued.
In another alleged incident, involving an 11- to 13-year-old identified as Victim 8, prosecutors do not have an eyewitness to the purported abuse.
Coworkers of Penn State janitor James Calhoun told grand jurors last year that Calhoun witnessed Sandusky performing oral sex on the boy in 2000. Calhoun told his supervisor, but never reported it to authorities. He now suffers from dementia and is unavailable to testify, prosecutors have said.
Judge John M. Cleland has yet to rule on a defense motion to have both cases thrown out.
Lawyers for the remaining eight accusers insist their clients are ready to face Sandusky in court.
Last week, five sought a judge’s approval to testify under pseudonyms, but Andreozzi, the lawyer for Victim 4, said the request should not be read as reluctance on the part of his client.
“His job is to testify and tell the truth,” he said. “And he is ready to do that.”