"The Betrayal of Joe Paterno" Chapter Six: The Sandusky Trial


Jerry Sandusky was tried in seemingly record time and convicted on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing underage boys. His trial was, from a purely due-process perspective, not fair. Somehow he was convicted of very serious crimes in an episode (the so called “janitor” event) which lacked a victim, a witness, a date, and a contemporaneous report. It was obvious that the local jury clearly felt that it was their civic duty to convict Sandusky (I spoke to one juror who was supportive of Joe Paterno but who was so close to the McQueary family that she didn’t even feel comfortable questioning his credibility; she was kept on the jury, against the advice of Joe Amendola, because Sandusky himself wanted her to stay).

For the media and the public, the trial was over before it even began. They had essentially already decided Sandusky was guilty based on the reports of the grand jury presentment and an infamous response to Bob Costas in a short phone interview.

I know that I am a contrarian by nature, but my immediate reaction to Sandusky pausing and repeating (before eventually responding, “No”) Costas’s seemingly simple question, “Are you sexually attracted to underage boys?” was the exact opposite of the overwhelming majority of people.

While I obviously found it to be an extremely odd response, I thought it was so strange that it was actually more consistent with his potential (partial) “innocence” than with obvious overwhelming guilt. After all, how could a rampant pedophile possibly get away with going around “raping” young boys for decades when he couldn’t even properly answer such an easy question over the phone? (I learned quickly in my interview with Sandusky that, much to my frustration, this is simply the way he speaks. Unless he is absolutely sure of something, he thinks about it before giving it a definitive answer, and usually then with qualifiers.)

Once the trial actually started, things didn’t get any better for Sandusky. In yet another element of the “Perfect Storm” here, Sandusky didn’t testify at least partly because one of his adopted sons “flipped” on him at the very last moment of the trial. The defense decided that Matt Sandusky suddenly claiming that he was a victim meant that it was too risky to put Jerry on the stand, thus ending the last real chance for the public to be open to the notion that maybe what they had been told about his crimes wasn’t exactly accurate.

In retrospect, given the verdict, not putting Sandusky on the stand was an obvious mistake. Not only would Sandusky have made a compelling (though extremely risky) witness, it is my opinion that the Matt Sandusky story could have actually worked to his advantage.

Without delving into all of the gritty details, Matt Sandusky would have easily been shown to be an extremely untrustworthy person. Almost everyone I have spoken to about him considers him to be nothing short of evil.

Among many other things, during the trial testimony of one of the victims that was upsetting him, Matt actually leaned over and told a Sandusky family member, “I could get up there and lie just like that too.” Even more remarkably, his allegation of abuse was curiously mild (Sandusky kissed him on the stomach as a kid and may have grazed his penis with his hand) and only came to him via repressed memory therapy, which is a method that has been largely discredited in the realm of psychology (the Minnesota Supreme Court recently rejected the theory as not valid, and I spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a world renowned expert in the field of memory, who seemed to think that Sandusky should not have been convicted of most, if not all, of the charges against him because of the bad science behind the method).

Unfortunately for Sandusky (and, indirectly, Paterno), Joe Amendola, who I consider to be a very smart and honest guy, was simply overwhelmed by the monumental task and media circus he faced. It was just all far too much for any one man to be able to handle under the circumstances. After speaking to him extensively, I believe that his co-counsel, Karl Rominger, was far too interested in the 15 minutes of fame/media attention the trial brought to him to be of any real help, and that he may have even provided the media with the audio of Matt Sandusky describing his alleged abuse.

While I am indeed convinced that Sandusky is indeed a “pedophile” or an “ephebophile” (though I do question whether he is the “type” the prosecution painted him as), there is no doubt that, regardless of the real truth, the media was only interested in one narrative during his trial.

For instance, they almost completely ignored the stunning recording of investigators conspiring along with his attorney to lie to Victim 4 to get him to claim that he had anal sex with Sandusky. Here is a partial transcript of that tape beginning with Victim 4’s own attorney bizarrely stating:

“Can we at some point in time say to him, ‘listen, we have interviewed other kids and other kids have told us that there was intercourse and that they have admitted it.  You know, is there anything else that you want to tell us?’ Corporal Joe Leiter answers “Yep, we do that with all the other kids.  ‘Say, listen, this is what we found so far.  You fit the pattern of all the other ones.’  This is the way he operates and the other kids we dealt have told us that this has happened after this happened.  Did that happen to you?”  

Then, on tape Corporal Leiter (who had very limited experience in sex crimes) told Victim 4:

“Before we start again, I just want to let you know you are not the first victim we have spoken to. We have interviewed probably I’m going to say nine. Again I call them kids.  I apologize.  Nine adults we have interviewed and you are doing very well.  It is amazing if this was a book, you would have been repeating word for word pretty much what a lot of people have already told us.  It is very similar.  A lot of things you have told us is very similar to what we have heard from the others and we know from listening to these other young adults talk to us and tell us what has taken place, that there is a pretty well-defined progression in the way he operated and still operates I guess to some degree and that the often times this progression, especially when it goes on for an extended period of time, leads to more than just the touching and the feeling.  That’s been actual oral sex that has taken place by both parties and there’s—we unfortunately have found that there’s been – classifies as a rape has occurred and I don’t want to you feel that again.  As Trooper Rossman said, I don’t want you to feel ashamed because you are a victim in this whole thing.  What happened happened.  He took advantage of you but when I – when we first started we talked, we needed to get details of what took place so these types of things happened. We need you to tell us this is what happened. Again, we are not going to look at you any differently other than the fact that you are a victim of this crime and it is going to be taken care of accordingly.  But we need you to tell us as graphically as you can what took place as we get through this whole procedure.  I just want you to understand that you are not alone in this.  By no means are you alone in this.”

At that point the officer, mistakenly thinking the recorder was off, says:

“Okay, we’re going to restart the recording.  It’s now 12:37 on 4/21/2011 and again we’re going to continue to record it.”

First of all, notice that the date of the interview is one month after Sara Ganim’s article which was essentially a call for more victims to come forward (though to be be fair this victim was already known to authorities). It should also be noted that Victim 4 just happened to be friends with Victim 6 (whose mother Ganim earlier asked to find more victims) and they were pictured together in Sandusky’s book, along with three other victims.

Also, can you imagine how differently a bombshell revelation like that would have gone down at the Michael Jackson trial where the media had a very different set of incentives? Instead its obvious significance was greatly diminished by the judge (absurdly, he told the jury that it should only be used to question the officer’s credibility and not Victim 4’s) and was generally ignored by the media.

One of Sandusky’s adopted children told me that they sat next to the media section of the court room every day and they could literally notice the silence in their keyboard note taking whenever something positive for the defense came out in testimony (as yet another part of the “Perfect Storm,” there were no cameras in the courtroom, which of course gave the news media a stranglehold over the narrative of the case).

If the media had any interest whatsoever in poking holes in the prosecution’s case, there was more than enough evidence with which to do exactly that. But they were already completely invested in their narrative and nothing was going to change that now. (I wish to make clear that my point here is not to defend an obvious pedophile. Instead it is to show that the evidence of Sandusky’s crimes was not nearly as evident or overt as the public perception and that this was why Penn State had no idea what was really going on. Again, because at this time the pro-Paterno forces had little concept of what loomed just ahead with the Freeh Report they saw no reason to risk appearing to defend Sandusky by putting his crimes in some sort of proper context. Unfortunately, I really believe allowing the media/public to be under the misimpression that the evidence against Sandusky was tremendously overwhelming ended up making Paterno’s defense exponentially more difficult than it should have been. Because Scott Paterno has embraced the narrative that Sandusky was obviously a hideous “monster,” for the average person this means that enormous damage was done and Joe Paterno just had to have known what was going on.)

The media hardly ever mentioned it, but ironically one of the three counts on which Sandusky was found not guilty was the allegation of anal rape in the McQueary episode. The night of the verdict I literally had to search online to find out that this was indeed what happened. No one in the major media (at least that I am aware of) has ever pointed out that Sandusky was not convicted of any allegations of “anal rape” from the original victims.

This effectively meant that, under the least exculpatory interpretation of events, Joe Paterno had been fired for not doing “more” to punish an ex-assistant for a rape that a hanging jury unanimously determined didn’t happen, to a victim who, according to the prosecution, didn’t even exist. (It is particularly galling to me when media outlets to this day still routinely do not correct the “rape” allegation. But even worse is their notion that it somehow doesn’t matter if there wasn’t really a rape, even though that was the explosive word that they used to fuel all of the outrage when it mattered. In a very real sense, this is the media pulling the ultimate “bait and switch” in what was roughly the journalistic equivalent to committing a war crime.)

But despite both this bizarre reality and his death, the punishment of Paterno and Penn State for the crimes of Sandusky was about to get much worse than anyone could have possibly imagined.