Jerry Sandusky, the ex-Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach convicted of sexually abusing children, appeared for a sentencing hearing that may put him in prison for life, capping a case that tarnished the school’s image and led to the firing of coach Joe Paterno.
Sandusky, 68, is to be sentenced today in state court in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, almost four months after he was found guilty of abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. Convicted on 45 counts, he will probably receive a prison term that may extend beyond his life expectancy, criminal law professors said.
“If the judge decides to give him 25 years to 30 years or 30 years to 60 years that’s probably a life sentence,” Daniel Filler, a law professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “I can’t imagine his sentence won’t reflect the public outrage.”
Sandusky will make a statement at today’s hearing, Karl Rominger, an attorney for the former coach, said in an e-mail. In a recorded jailhouse statement played yesterday on a college radio station, Sandusky denied the charges and questioned the fairness of the trial and the honesty of his accusers.
“They could take away my life, they could make me out as a monster, they could treat me as a monster, but they can’t take away my heart,” Sandusky said in the statement posted on the Penn State ComRadio News website. “In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts.”
Sandusky blamed his conviction on a “well-orchestrated effort” by the media, investigators, “the system,” Penn State, his accusers, civil attorneys and psychologists. The “attention, financial gain and prestige” they won will “all be temporary,” Sandusky said.
He said his lawyers didn’t have time to prepare for a trial.
“We will fight for another chance,” he said. “We have given many second chances and now we’ll ask for one.”
The case against Sandusky and the ensuing scandal has cast a shadow over the school, located in an area called “Happy Valley,” for almost a year. The fallout from the criminal probe led to the firings of university President Graham Spanier and Paterno, who headed Penn State’s football program for 46 years. It also resulted in the university being sanctioned and two other school officials facing related criminal charges.
The scandal was a “train wreck” that captivated the nation, Duquesne University law professor Wesley Oliver said.
“I couldn’t imagine the appetite for this case lasted as long as it did,” Oliver said. “It was uncontroverted that Sandusky raped these kids. We didn’t tune into this trial to see what would happen or to see whether he did it. We tuned in because we were drawn to the gruesomeness of it.”
Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator for Penn State’s Nittany Lions, played and coached under Paterno for more than 30 years before retiring in 1999.
His retirement came the year after allegations first surfaced of inappropriate contact with minors. State prosecutors began investigating in early 2009 after a teen reported that Sandusky had inappropriately touched him several times over a four-year period. Sandusky was arrested and charged in November. Additional charges were added the following month.
Sandusky met the boys he abused through The Second Mile, a charity he founded for needy children. During a two-week trial in June, prosecutors portrayed him as a serial child molester who used the charity to recruit his victims, befriending them and “grooming” them with gifts, trips to Penn State football games and money. His lawyers argued that the case was the product of overzealous investigators. Sandusky didn’t testify.
Some of Sandusky’s victims took the witness stand to recount their dealings with the coach at his home and on campus.
“This case was very simple from a legal perspective,” Oliver said. “You had overwhelming evidence from credible accusers and you had the defendant’s own words,” he said, citing TV and newspaper interviews by Sandusky.
“There was nothing particularly in doubt,” Oliver said.
One remaining question about today’s proceeding is whether state Common Pleas Court Judge John Cleland will sentence Sandusky to prison terms that run consecutively or concurrently. If the minimum terms on the charges were to run concurrently, Sandusky could be sentenced to 10 years.
“That’s the invisible way a judge can treat a defendant more lightly or more heavily,” Filler said.
There is also no “mathematical formula” for how the judge will consider other factors such as Sandusky’s lack of criminal history and his past good works in comparison to the harm he caused, said Jules Epstein, a Widener University law professor.
“What’s the total sentence that’s best for society and best for Mr. Sandusky? Not the sentence you like the most but the one that’s most appropriate,” Epstein said of the question facing Cleland. “It’s a hard question to answer.”
Second Mile served children with physical, emotional and academic needs, according to its website. The charity had supporters with high-profile ties to Penn State including Dorothy Huck, the wife of Penn State emeritus board trustee Lloyd Huck, who sat on the charity’s state board of directors.
Sandusky’s success as the group’s primary fundraiser was evident as the charity’s 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.
Second Mile said in May it planned to close and transfer its assets to a Houston-based nonprofit. Those plans are on hold pending the resolution of investigations tied to the Sandusky case.
Cleland will hear arguments today on the state’s request to designate Sandusky a sexually violent predator before he’s sentenced. That status under Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law applies to a person convicted of sexually violent crimes who, because of mental abnormality or personality disorder, presents a high risk of recidivism.
The designation requires a lifetime registration, community notification and lifetime counseling, according to the state’s Sexual Offenders Assessment Board. Cleland’s decision on the designation could help determine his final ruling on sentencing, Epstein said.
“If the judge thinks that it’s an accurate diagnosis that would help decide the risk factor,” Epstein said. “If he’s likely to repeat that increases the danger to the public and could be factored into the sentence.”
Last month, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the school plans to compensate Sandusky’s victims with money from insurance policies and funds set aside from interest on internal loans. The 157-year-old school is trying to move forward even as it can never forget what happened, Erickson said in a Sept. 18 interview.
The school, which has spent $19.2 million responding to the Sandusky scandal, has changed its governance structure, implemented management changes and created more transparency as it embarks on a search for a new president. In July the university was fined $60 million by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, while it faces at least three victims’ lawsuits and a complaint filed by a former football coach who testified against Sandusky. The NCAA also stripped the football team of its wins from 1998 through 2011.
The former coach who sued, Mike McQueary, is a prosecution witness in the case against Timothy Curley, Penn State athletic director at the time, and Gary Schultz, a former vice president in charge of university police. The men are slated for trial in January on charges they lied to a grand jury about a 2001 sex abuse allegation against Sandusky and failed to report the incident to authorities. Both denied the charges.
A university-commissioned report released in July by Louis Freeh, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Curley, Schultz, Spanier and Paterno failed to take responsible action after the February 2001 incident although they knew of an early allegation and investigation in 1998. Lawyers for Curley and Schultz said the report was unfair, inaccurate and not based on a full record of the facts. An attorney for Spanier said in August that the report was an undeserved, biased attack on the former president.
McQueary said he was fired from his $140,400-a-year job because of his cooperation with state prosecutors. He’s seeking $4 million in lost earnings, according to a complaint filed Oct. 1 in state court.
The cases are Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Sandusky, CP-14-2422-CR-2011, Court of Common Pleas, Centre County, Pennsylvania (Bellefonte); and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Schultz, CP-22-CR-5164-2011, Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).