Jerry Sandusky, the ex-Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach convicted of sexually abusing children, was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison, concluding a prosecution that tarnished the school’s image and led to the firing of head coach Joe Paterno.
Sandusky, 68, appeared yesterday before Common Pleas Court Judge John Cleland wearing an orange jumpsuit and white sneakers. The hearing in state court in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, came almost four months after he was found guilty of abusing 10 boys over a 15 year-period. He was convicted on 45 counts.
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.
“You abused the trust of those who trusted you,” Cleland said. “The crime is not only what you did to their bodies but the crime is your assault to their psyche and their souls.”
The judge said Sandusky will be kept in the Centre County Correctional Facility for 10 days before being transferred to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, for processing and placement. Sandusky got credit for the 112 days he has been incarcerated since the case began.
Sandusky will serve at least three decades before he’s considered for parole, in essence “the remainder of his natural life,” lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan said after the sentence was imposed.
The sentence is no more than anyone could reasonably expect, said Daniel Filler, a criminal law professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The sentence could even be considered lenient considering Sandusky was convicted of indecent deviant sexual intercourse, Pennsylvania’s “old-fashioned term” for rape, Filler said.
“If Sandusky lives to age 98, he won’t necessarily get parole even after 30 years,” Filler said. “It’s hard to imagine a court sentencing any serial rapist to a lesser term.”
Before a packed court, including his wife and four of his six adopted children, Sandusky denied the charges against him.
“Others can take my life, they can make me out as a monster, but they can’t take away my heart,” he said. “And in my heart I know that I did not do these disgusting things.”
Three of Sandusky’s victims addressed the court before sentence was passed. Statements from a fourth victim and the mother of one of the victims were read.
In a recorded statement posted on the Penn State ComRadio News website Oct. 8, 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 the trial.
Sandusky’s statement was “a masterpiece of denial and self-delusion,” McGettigan said after the hearing. “It was untethered from reality.”
Sandusky read his statement yesterday as victims seated three rows behind him lowered their heads and shook them from side to side. The former coach was at times defiant, pledging to “continue to fight,” and at other times anguished at the separation from his wife of 46 years and his grandchildren. He said the victims are people he cared about and still does.
Sandusky sought to abuse and manipulate his victims until the very end, a teenager identified as Victim 1 said in a statement read at the hearing by McGettigan.
“There is no remorse, no regret, only evil,” the victim said in the statement.
Another victim who spoke during the hearing said his abuse left him suffering from anxiety, post-traumatic stress, embarrassment and guilt.
“I can never erase the filthy images of his naked body against mine, his hands on me and him forcing my hands on him,” the teenager said.
Another victim said he would never forgive the former coach.
“You were the person in my life who was supposed to be a role model. Instead you did terrible things,” the victim, who now has a child of his own, said. “Rather than take accountability for your actions you decided to attack us as if we did something wrong. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who oversaw the beginning of the Sandusky probe when he was attorney general, applauded the victims for stepping forward.
“Today’s sentence will hopefully give comfort to those young men, whose trust in the justice system is rewarded by seeing this man go to prison for the rest of his life,” Corbett said yesterday in a statement.
Defense attorney Joseph Amendola said he believes Sandusky would have been acquitted had his lawyers had enough time to get ready for trial. The lawyers had 4 1/2 months to prepare a case based on 52 criminal counts and 10 separate victims, much less than a related case against two Penn State officials charged with lesser crimes, Amendola said.
“Had we had the time, we would have had the opportunity to prove Jerry’s innocence,” Amendola said after the hearing.
The issue will be the basis for an appeal that will be filed within 10 days, Karl Rominger, another defense attorney, said.
Cleland’s denial of a request to delay the trial “fundamentally taints the fairness of the process,” Rominger said.
The Sandusky scandal cast a shadow over the university, located in an area called “Happy Valley,” for almost a year. The fallout 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. Paterno died Jan. 22.
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, the year after allegations first surfaced of inappropriate contact with minors.
State prosecutors began investigating in early 2009 after a teenager 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’s lawyers argued that the case was the product of overzealous investigators. Sandusky didn’t testify.
Some of Sandusky’s victims took the witness stand at his trial, recounting their experiences with him at his home and on campus.
“This case was very simple from a legal perspective,” Oliver said in an interview. “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.
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.
Sandusky was designated a sexually violent predator before his sentencing yesterday, a move that was uncontested by the defense. Under Pennsylvania law, that status is applied 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.
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.
“Our thoughts today, as they have been for the last year, go out to the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse,” Erickson said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “While today’s sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it will provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events and help them continue down the road to recovery.”
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’s 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 ex-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).