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Defense in Sandusky case prepares to tell his side of the story

By Anne Danahy, McClatchy Newspapers –

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Beginning Monday, the 12 people who will decide former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky’s fate will hear his side of the story.

Last week, the jury listened as witness after witness took the stand for the prosecution and described Sandusky as a man who had charmed them with gifts and attention, only to exploit them sexually.

Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. He has maintained that he is innocent.

Court is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. EDT Monday.

Attorneys say the defense has a few options for trying to counter the case prosecutors made last week, including poking holes in the alleged victims’ stories and casting doubt on their credibility and motives.

Another option is calling character witnesses who will speak highly of Sandusky. And, Sandusky himself could take the stand.

Local attorney Bernard Cantorna said that much as an attorney would call a witness to corroborate a story, the defense could call witnesses to disprove or offset someone else’s testimony.

“If you take any of the alleged victims’ accounts and you can refute something they said, part of their story, that in itself will lead people to question that if part of it is not accurate, (the testimony) might not be accurate,” he said.

Defense attorney Joe Amendola seemed to be laying the groundwork for that while questioning some of the alleged victims. Alleged victim No. 1, for example, testified that after he had told officials about Sandusky he saw a man from Second Mile dressed in a dark suit at his school.

“Amendola asked him if someone from the school testified that no one was there that day, (would) the person be wrong,” said Wesley Oliver, professor at Widener University law school. “Someone from the school will testify.”

Amendola has also raised the question of whether the alleged victims are seeking financial gain by asking them about whether they’ve hired civil attorneys. Some have.

He has questioned the alleged victims about who their roommates were at Second Mile camps and whether they have discussed the allegations with anyone else.

If believed, the eight alleged victims’ testimony has shown a pattern — grooming by Sandusky followed by sexual abuse. The defense could try to show that pattern comes from coaching, with the alleged victims talking to attorneys and police investigators, experts said.

Character witnesses are another option.

Attorney Matt McClenahen said the risk of that is that if an attorney calls witnesses who testify about the defendant’s character, the prosecution can talk about the bad side of a person’s past.

“But, Sandusky’s never been charged with a crime previously,” McClenahen said. “There’s nothing the prosecution can put out there, other than the information that’s already been presented in the trial.

“My understanding is that there’s a long line of defense character witnesses lined up who have been subpoenaed,” he said.

The list of potential witnesses also provided to prospective jurors includes some well-known figures, such as Jay Paterno, Sue Paterno, former Second Mile CEO Jack Raykovitz and Karen Arnold, the assistant district attorney in 1998, when Penn State police investigated Sandusky. Charges were not filed after that investigation.

Cantorna said the big question is whether Sandusky will testify, something that Amendola alluded to in his opening statement.

Cantorna noted that Sandusky didn’t appear to do well when interviewed over the phone with Bob Costas on a televised news show. Still, Cantorna said, it seems likely Sandusky will take the stand.

“At the end of the day, I would suspect he would probably testify,” Cantorna said. “Given the breadth of the charges, the reality is he’s the best one to say, ‘I didn’t do it.’”

The defense also seems to want to raise the question of whether Sandusky suffers from histrionic personality disorder as a way to explain his behavior including writing letters that one alleged victim described as “creepy love letters.”

The American Psychiatric Association calls histrionic personality disorder “a pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking” that’s “often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior” and rapidly shifting emotions.

The judge in the case is allowing the defense to call a psychologist or psychiatrist, provided the prosecutors can have their own expert speak with Sandusky. That meeting with the prosecution’s expert apparently took place Sunday.

“It’s always possible to bring forward a mental health issue,” said Gunner Gleason, a veteran defense attorney from Cambria County, Pa.

“They have indicated that there are some (psychological) issues that are not the normal defense options. And if you’re going to use a mental health defense, you know already if you have a valid witness you can call. You’ve lined that witness up in advance.”

Jurors have remained unexpressive for most of the trial, with only the occasional show of emotion — one woman used a tissue during testimony from one of the alleged victims. They appear to be listening carefully.

Cantorna said it’s not surprising to see them remain so poker-faced.

“These jurors know a lot of people are watching them,” he said.

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