Sandusky’s Fate Hinges on Testimony of Sex-Abuse Accusers

Sandusky Accusers’ Credibility Seen as Determining Trial Outcome
Former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky enters the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Photographer: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, a jury and the public may soon hear eight young men describe how, when they were boys, they were allegedly befriended and sexually assaulted.

That testimony may send Sandusky, 68, to prison for the rest of his life. The Nittany Lions defensive coordinator under late coach Joe Paterno may fare better if jurors doubt the childhood memories of the witnesses and prosecutors’ version of events, beginning with opening statements June 11 in state court in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, legal experts said.

“If these eight men are not believable or there are gaps in their stories, or if one of them doesn’t seem credible --that could threaten the government’s case,” said Michael McCann, director of Vermont Law School’s Sports Law Institute, who has been following and writing about the case.

The eight accusers, whom Sandusky met through a charity he founded in 1977, now range in age from 18 to 28. They will be identified publicly for the first time in court. Judge John M. Cleland, who is presiding over the case, denied their request to use pseudonyms. The identities of two other alleged victims are still unknown to authorities.

The 52 counts against Sandusky include 11 charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, each punishable by as long as 20 years in prison. Sandusky was initially accused Nov. 5 of crimes involving eight boys. Prosecutors added more counts the following month after two new accusers came forward.

Second Mile

Prosecutors say Sandusky used the charity, The Second Mile, to recruit victims, “grooming” them with gifts, trips to football games and money. The children ranged in age from 10 to 15 when the alleged abuse occurred.

Sandusky maintains his innocence. In an interview in November with Bob Costas on NBC’s “Rock Center,” Sandusky, while admitting to showering and “horsing around” with boys, said he isn’t a pedophile and denied the charges against him.

“Publicly, he gives off the persona that he just doesn’t get it,” said Lisa Friel, former chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex crimes unit and now vice president of sexual misconduct consulting for T&M Protection Resources LLC, a security and investigations company. “That’s not unusual with a pedophile, the inability to see the world as the rest of us do.”

Assets Transferred

Second Mile served children with physical, emotional and academic needs, according to its website. The charity said last month that it would close and transfer its assets to a Houston-based nonprofit. Those assets more than tripled from 2002 through 2009, according to Internal Revenue Service filings. Second Mile had revenue of $2.7 million and net assets of $9 million, according to its 2010 annual report. Sandusky was the group’s primary fundraiser.

Second Mile supporters with ties to Penn State included former university spokesman Steve Hevner and Dorothy Huck, the wife of Penn State emeritus board trustee Lloyd Huck, who sat on the charity’s state board of directors.

In 2002, Penn State sold land for a new learning center to Second Mile, according to documents submitted to the state as part of charity’s application for a $3 million construction grant. State officials dropped the grant in November after Sandusky was charged.

Sandusky had envisioned a center with classrooms and a dormitory space for overnight accommodations, according to columns he wrote for Second Mile newsletters.

‘Linebacker U.’

Sandusky was an assistant coach under Paterno from 1969 until his retirement at the end of the 1999 season. He was the architect of defenses that built the school’s reputation as “Linebacker U.”

The case against Sandusky led to the firings of Penn State President Graham Spanier and Paterno, who died of lung cancer at 85 in January. Paterno won 409 games and two national championships in 46 years as Penn State’s coach. He was fired Nov. 9 amid criticism he didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky.

Penn State said it’s cooperating with investigations by the state attorney general, the U.S. Education Department, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and federal authorities. The university said in a June 5 statement that it wouldn’t comment on specifics of Sandusky’s case.

“The acts that Jerry Sandusky is accused of committing are horrible and if proven true, deserve punishment,” the school said on a website it created to chronicle its handling of the scandal and its aftermath. “We are further hopeful that the legal process will start to bring closure to the alleged victims and families whose lives have been irrevocably impacted.”

Paying Investigators

Penn State said this year that it has paid $9.6 million to investigators, public-relations consultants and lawyers as a result of the Sandusky case.

Payments for a special investigation led by Louis Freeh, the former Federal Bureau of Investigation director, and to Reed Smith LLP, the Pittsburgh-based law firm hired to advise the school on the Sandusky fallout, totaled about $6.5 million as of March 31, the school said on the website. A legal defense fund for Spanier and two other school officials accounted for another $543,979, the university said.

The case against Sandusky, while strong, confronts prosecutors with a few hurdles, said Wesley Oliver, a law professor at Widener University in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Case ‘Weaknesses’

“There are weaknesses in each of the allegations,” said Oliver, who teaches criminal law. “It’s not an open-and-shut case anymore.”

Memories have faded in the years since the incidents are said to have occurred. A police investigation more than a decade ago led to no charges. Eyewitnesses are few, and two of the alleged victims haven’t been identified.

The accounts of victims begin in September 1995, with alleged indecent contact involving a person identified in court documents as Victim 7. The man, now about 26, told a grand jury last year that he met Sandusky in 1994 at the age of 10. An invitation to a Penn State football game led to overnight stays at Sandusky’s home before games at Beaver Stadium, he said.

Victim 7 said he has a “blurry memory” of some contact with Sandusky in the shower of the Lasch Football Building on Penn State’s campus and was unable to recall it clearly, according to a grand jury report released the day Sandusky was charged.

Fifty Times

Sandusky is accused of abusing another boy, Victim 4, more than 50 times from October 1996 to December 2000, starting with indecent contact and progressing to digital penetration of the victim’s anus, oral sex and intercourse in the first half of 2000, according to court documents.

Victim 4, now 27, told the grand jury that Sandusky assaulted him in the football practice building and at a local hotel. He said he attended the 1999 Alamo Bowl in Texas, where Sandusky threatened to send him home when he resisted his advances, according to court documents.

In 1997, Sandusky began abusing another person identified as Victim 10, who was 10 at the time he met Sandusky, according to charging documents filed in May. He said the coach performed oral sex on him during wrestling sessions at his home and on one occasion exposed himself in a car and requested oral sex, according to the grand jury report.

In 1998, Sandusky was questioned by police after the mother of another boy, identified as Victim 6, complained about a shower incident in a university locker room. The police departments of Penn State and the town of State College, Pennsylvania, investigated.

Two Conversations

The grand jury report describes how Ronald Schreffler, a university detective, and Ralph Ralston, a State College detective, eavesdropped on two conversations the mother had with Sandusky in May 1998. She asked Sandusky whether his “private parts” touched her son during a hug and Sandusky replied, “I don’t think so ... maybe,” according to the report.

“I was wrong,” Sandusky told the mother, according to the report. “I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

The investigation was closed after Ray Gricar, the Centre County district attorney at the time, decided there would be no criminal charges, according to the grand jury report. Gricar disappeared April 15, 2005. His laptop computer’s hard drive was found in the Susquehanna River and, at the request of his daughter, a judge declared him to be dead last year. A state child welfare investigator said last year that there wasn’t enough evidence to take action against Sandusky at the time.

Basement Bedroom

In 1999, Victim 3, now 24, met Sandusky through Second Mile, according to charging documents. He told the grand jury that Sandusky assaulted him in a basement bedroom whenever he spent the night at the former coach’s home. Sandusky allegedly gave him shoulder rubs, blew on his stomach and touched his genitals, according to the grand jury report.

In November 2000, a janitor at Penn State allegedly saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy between the ages of 11 and 13, identified as Victim 8, in the football building showers according to the grand jury report. The janitor told his supervisor, who testified before the grand jury.

Prosecutors still don’t know the identity of the boy, and the former janitor, who now suffers from dementia and resides in a nursing home, can’t testify.

On Feb. 9, 2001, another Penn State assistant football coach, Mike McQueary, saw in the football building showers what prosecutors allege was Sandusky having anal sex with a boy.

McQueary, then a graduate assistant, initially told a grand jury that the incident took place in March 2002. Prosecutors amended the date last month, citing “specific and authenticated findings” from an investigation. The identity of the boy, Victim 2 in the grand jury report, is still unknown.

School Officials

McQueary’s testimony is at the center of a related case against two university officials, Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz, who are accused of lying to a grand jury about the original allegation and failing to report the incident to police.

Joseph Amendola, Sandusky’s attorney, argued that charges involving the two unknown victims should be thrown out. Any testimony by other people concerning Victim 8, the unidentified boy first described by the janitor, would constitute impermissible hearsay, Amendola said in court papers.

Cleland yesterday denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges.

The date change in McQueary’s account won’t be as important to either side as the testimony of the eight men, according to McCann, the Vermont professor.

Dates, Gaps

“But if McQueary testifies and there are gaps in his story, that’s going to help Sandusky,” he said.

In August 2001, Sandusky began abusing a boy identified as Victim 5, prosecutors said. In one incident in Penn State’s football locker rooms, Sandusky allegedly placed the victim’s hand on his genitals during a shower, according to the grand jury report.

The grand jury report initially said Victim 5, now 22, met Sandusky through Second Mile in 1995 or 1996 when the boy was about 7 or 8. Sandusky began to touch him inappropriately from 1996 to 1998 when he was 8 to 10 years old, according to the grand jury report. Prosecutors amended the date of offense to August 2001 in charging documents filed last month.

In June and July 2005, Sandusky allegedly began abusing two boys identified as Victim 1 and Victim 9. Sandusky allegedly attempted to engage in anal penetration of Victim 9, now 18, on at least 16 occasions and at times did so, according to court documents.

Screamed for Help

The man told the grand jury that on at least one occasion he screamed for help, knowing Sandusky’s wife, Dorothy, was upstairs, according to court documents. No one came, he testified. Sandusky also allegedly abused him in the swimming pool and whirlpool bath of a hotel in State College.

Victim 9 contacted Pennsylvania State Police after Sandusky was arrested. Dorothy Sandusky said in December that the allegations were false.

“He had a modus operandi in how he dealt with these children,” Friel, the former prosecutor, said. “It’s the typical MO of a pedophile.”

By early 2009, the Pennsylvania attorney general began an investigation after a Clinton County, Pennsylvania, teenager identified as Victim 1 told authorities that Sandusky had inappropriately touched him several times over four years. The teenager, who met Sandusky through Second Mile, told the grand jury that the abuse took place at Sandusky’s home, the Hilton Garden Inn in State College and Central Mountain Middle School.

Sandusky was barred from a Clinton County high school the victim attended after the boy’s mother called the school to report the alleged behavior. Sandusky, who assisted the school with varsity football, had “unfettered access,” according to the grand jury report.

Six Years

According to the grand jury report, Second Mile learned in 2002 about the shower incident reported by McQueary. The charity didn’t move to limit Sandusky’s access to children until November 2008. Sandusky retired from day-to-day involvement with the charity in September 2010, saying he wanted to spend more time with family and handle personal matters.

An insurance policy lists Sandusky as an officer and director of Second Mile as late as April 2011.

In papers filed in May, Sandusky said allegations regarding four victims lack specificity and are so general that he can’t adequately prepare a defense.

Those arguments make the testimony of the accusers that much more crucial, said Jules Epstein, who teaches criminal law and evidence at Widener University’s Wilmington, Delaware, campus.

“The legal argument, and if he loses his trial he may renew it on appeal, is that people should not have to stand trial for a crime that you can’t pin down the date it happened,” Epstein said. “A jury might say, ‘You have so few details about this I don’t believe you.’”

Still, Sandusky might be put away for life as long as jurors believe one accuser, McCann said. The alleged victims will need to offer details, not generalities, when they testify, he said.

“Their story of what happened better be right,” he said. “If it turns out that the facts are different than as they’ve been presented, I think the defense will really exploit that.”

The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Sandusky, CP-14-2422-2011, Court of Common Pleas, Centre County, Pennsylvania (Bellefonte).