By Peter Hall, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) –
BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Jerry Sandusky’s lawyers have been laying the groundwork for the retired Penn State football coach’s defense since prosecutors finished questioning their first witness Monday.
Defense attorneys Joe Amendola and Karl Rominger are expected next week to begin calling defense witnesses who may include the widow and son of legendary head coach Joe Paterno, Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, and the former Penn State defensive coordinator himself.
But in the first week, Sandusky’s lawyers have been compiling scraps of testimony from each of the prosecution’s witnesses that are likely to form the framework of their closing argument, local attorneys say.
“You have a theme from the get-go. Every question you ask on cross-examination is backing up your theme,” said Allentown criminal defense attorney John Waldron.
The defense attorneys grilled the eight young men who testified Sandusky abused them about their conversations with investigators, whether they’ve hired their own attorneys, and their relationships to other accusers.
Easton criminal defense lawyer Gary Asteak said the defense attorney’s job is to use the prosecution’s witnesses to tell the story a defendant wants the jury to hear. That means the attorney must deliver the narrative through his questions and never ask what he doesn’t already know.
Amendola’s questions point toward a defense strategy of discrediting the witnesses and leading the jurors to doubt the accusers’ motives for testifying.
“That may be the defense’s only strategy in this case, to chip away at the credibility of the victims,” said retired federal prosecutor Seth Weber.
Sandusky, 68, is charged with molesting 10 young boys between 1994 and 2009, two of whom investigators have never identified.
His accusers, now in their late teens and 20s, each testified under questioning by Senior Deputy Attorney General Joseph E. McGettigan III they met Sandusky during programs through The Second Mile, a charity for troubled children Sandusky founded in 1977.
Each witness said Sandusky invited him to outings at parks and Penn State football games with other children before the ex-coach singled him out for one-on-one activities like racquetball and workouts on the Penn State campus.
In Centre County Court testimony this week, the accusers described eerily similar progressions: from Sandusky’s hand on their knees while riding in his car, to hugging and groping while naked in the shower or in bed at Sandusky’s Centre County home, to — for some — forced sex.
In his opening statement, Amendola suggested Sandusky would take the witness stand to give his side of the story and tell jurors how he grew up in a recreation center his parents managed, where showering with other people was not unusual.
Amendola also promised to show jurors that the accusers’ motives were not driven by a desire for justice, but by a hope to tap Penn State and The Second Mile’s coffers through civil lawsuits.
Amendola asked his client’s accusers on cross-examination about what they told investigators, and when. Each accuser gave his name in court, but The Morning Call typically does not publish the names of victims of sexual abuse.
Questioning Victim 4, a 28-year-old man who said Sandusky forced him to perform oral sex, Amendola elicited testimony that the accuser hadn’t mentioned the sex act until he testified before the grand jury that recommended charges against Sandusky last year.
“During the interview, did you initially tell the officers that you and Jerry Sandusky had been involved in sexual behavior?” Amendola asked.
“No,” Victim 4 replied.
Victim 4 told the jury under questioning that he met with investigators several more times, but “didn’t completely come out.”
“I never told them any details at all,” Victim 4 said.
“So in other words your testimony before the grand jury was the first time you gave any details?” Amendola asked.
“Yes,” the man replied.
In a similar exchange with Victim 7, Amendola asked when he first told investigators that Sandusky had grabbed him from behind in a shower when he was 11. The man, now 27, told jurors under cross-examination that he didn’t mention the contact until after he had testified before the grand jury.
“Today you testified Mr. Sandusky in the shower grabbed you from behind. Prior to today, did you tell anybody in the attorney general’s office about that?” Amendola asked.
“Joe McGettigan,” the man replied.
That admission came, Amendola established through cross-examination, after the boy had hired a private attorney.
He employed the same tactic with each of the six accusers who have private lawyers.
Victim 6, who said Sandusky tickled and hugged him in a shower in 1998, testified Tuesday that his perception of the incident changed after he learned of the investigation.
“Did your change of perception have anything to do with hiring counsel, signing some agreement, the contents of which you are not sure about and thinking there might be some financial gain for you?” Amendola asked.
“Zero,” the 26-year-old man replied.
Amendola asked a similar question of former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, who testified he saw Sandusky in a locker room shower sexually assaulting the unidentified boy known in court papers as Victim 2. McQueary lost his position on the Penn State coaching staff after Paterno was fired in the wake of Sandusky’s charges.
The defense attorney asked McQueary whether he had filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against Penn State, suggesting that McQueary was biased and had an interest in seeing Sandusky convicted. McQueary admitted he has filed a notice that he intends to sue the university.
“I want to be a football coach at Penn State University, and I think I am owed something for the position that I am in,” he testified.
Ultimately, Asteak said, the cross-examination questions may be enough to convince jurors that some of the alleged victims’ testimony was exaggerated. But Sandusky’s lawyers also will need to present testimony from witnesses who support Sandusky’s side of the story.
“He’s not going to win this case on cross-examination alone,” Asteak said.