Our REALLY Exclusive Interview With Jerry Sandusky
Earlier this month I interviewed Jerry Sandusky on three separate occasions for a total of over three and a half hours. The interview is not only Sandusky’s first face-to-face interview of its kind since his arrest; it is also the first of any sort since his conviction. It is also, for many reasons (some of which are not likely immediately obvious), likely the last interview of this type that Sandusky will ever do. This morning I am releasing a very small portion of this interview via audio clips which will be aired first on NBC’s Today Show and, exclusively, shortly thereafter on this website. The full interview (both audio and transcript) will be released at a later date.
The primary purpose of this interview was not to attempt to exonerate Jerry Sandusky of the horrible crimes for which he was convicted in a trial where he didn’t even take the stand in his own defense. That was neither my goal nor really even an interest of mine and I made that point very clear to everyone in Sandusky’s camp who was in the loop on deciding to approve this interview.
My principal objective was to gather new information about this story as it related to the alleged culpability of Joe Paterno and Penn State in these crimes. To that end, most (though hardly all) of my questions were intended to focus on that aspect of this story and to attempt to fill in the many blanks which have created difficulty for anyone to fully understand what really happened here. He is obviously the central figure in this story and it is impossible to put all the pieces of the puzzle together without a full record of his account.
As will be proven through evidence released shortly at this website, this interview with Sandusky goes a long way in providing important pieces of information, corroborated by others, which I believe largely, if not fully, exonerate Joe Paterno and Penn State.
For the record, there were very few ground rules for the interview. It was just me and him for the duration of the discussion. Sandusky only refused to answer two questions (and he ended up answering both of them indirectly anyway), and everything he said was both “on the record” and recorded in some significant way.
Frankly, I was stunned at much of what I learned and, in some ways, I am more confused than ever some things. However, I can assure you that while I am still not positive I know exactly what did occur in this tragedy, I have never been surer that the media narrative and public perception of this case are laughably wrong.
Before I get into the details of what was discussed and what it means, I would like to share some general thoughts about the interview.
First, for those who understandably despise Sandusky, you will be pleased to know that there is absolutely no doubt that he is being punished to the maximum for his crimes. His living situation in his current “Supermax” location is probably as horrendous as anyone who has never had any major behavioral issues in prison.
He has very few privileges (the fact that he only gets a couple of phone calls a month made planning and conducting this interview extremely difficult), has almost no interaction with humans, and gets one visit a week if he is lucky.
Sandusky has been put on suicide watch several times even though he insists that he is far from suicidal and that no therapist has concluded that he is. He joked with me that being on suicide watch is such a horrible experience that if you aren’t suicidal when you get put on “watch,” you probably will be by the end of it.
During the face-to-face portion of our interview at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute in Waynesburg, PA, Sandusky was handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit over a grey t-shirt. We were separated by a glass with a sliver of metal mesh on either side so we could hear each other speak.
It was clear to me that, while he has not given up, he is extremely sad and prison life is obviously taking its toll. Everything about him seemed drawn and sunken. Tears welled in his eyes at numerous points in the discussion and at one junction near the end of our first interview they were streaming down his cheeks, but he couldn’t really wipe them away because of the handcuffs.
Perhaps the most poignant moment (of several) came when he became excited about the prospects of fighting for a new trial and he ended his spirited rant by wondering whether anyone would listen to his claims of innocence. When I dispassionately assured him that this was highly unlikely, I could almost feel the life escape out of him with the breath he instantly exhaled with a sad sigh. It was as if I had informed him that Santa Claus didn’t really exist.
For obvious reasons (largely because I really just wanted information, most of which was not directly related to his guilt or innocence, and because I knew any hint of a defense of him would put me in the position of being attacked as “pro-Hitler”), I didn’t want to like him and, for the most part, largely because of his rather obvious narcissism, I didn’t.
However, much to my surprise, I didn’t come away hating him either.
I must admit that as a human being, a part of me did have sympathy for the hell that he is enduring and respect for his ability to not give up against insurmountable odds. I am sure many people will read that, think of the victims he was convicted of abusing in horrendous ways and say “who cares?!” but I am just being completely honest and providing context for the interview.
As for Sandusky’s overall demeanor and credibility, I must confess that I was impressed. He comes across as incredibly sincere and so remarkably unpolished that the notion that he could have been a super-slick master manipulator (one who somehow couldn’t even manage to properly answer the Bob Costas “are you sexually attracted to young boys?” question) seems almost absurd.
From an honesty perspective, it would have been difficult for me to be more convinced that, at least with regard to the things I actually cared most about (again, not relating directly to his overall guilt or innocence) he was telling me what he believed to be the truth. There were many reasons why I came this conclusion; one which I realize will be wrongly seen by many (who were obviously not there) as naïve.
First, Sandusky not only didn’t tell me everything I wanted to hear about Paterno, he actually, at times, almost went out of his way to tell me things that I did not want to hear (for instance, with regard to the infamous Freeh Report emails from 1998 where “coach” is assumed by Louis Freeh to mean “Paterno”). In fact, he even muttered apologetically to me at one point, “I’m probably not telling you what you want to hear,” and I assured him that I am simply trying to find the truth, just as Paterno himself had urged everyone to do just before he died.
Second, Sandusky often says things which are clearly not in his own self interest because he thinks they are true and, at other times, he refrains from coming to conclusions which would very much be in his self interest because he simply doesn’t have enough information, or a strong enough memory, to feel comfortable doing so.
He very much comes across as the type of person who won’t tell you what time it is unless he has at least two reliable sources. I got the strong sense that this quirk may have been a large part of the reason that his defense team elected to not to put him on the stand, even though he could have possibly been an extremely powerful witness precisely because of this tendency. In others words, because he sometimes says things that seem really dumb (he even called himself “stupid” at one point), you get the overall sense that he is not lying to you. I could certainly understand why so many people close to him who now strongly regret it refused to believe the worst about him for all of those years.
The most profound example of this came in the realm of one of the many major revelations which I came to during the interview. Sandusky says (for the first time), with absolute certitude, that he never knew that Mike McQueary was the witness of the infamous shower scene until it became public knowledge over ten years later. I am completely convinced that he is telling the truth about this rather important point not just because he is so believable, but also because there is significant corroborating evidence (including an incredible never before seen report of an interview with the “10 year old boy in the shower” himself, which we will be releasing shortly) to support this premise and because it explains a lot of elements of the story which had previously confused me.
But what really struck me was that when I gave Sandusky the opportunity to call McQueary, the man he believes destroyed his life, a liar for having testified, with great detail, that he had clearly made his presence known to Sandusky and the boy, and even made eye contact with them, he went out of his way to not do so. Instead he said, quite charitably, that there would be no way for him to know for sure that McQueary was lying because he could have just been mistaken when he claimed under oath that he had clearly made is tall, red-headed presence known.
Here is the audio from that exchange which occurred on the phone after we had already discussed the details in person. (A note to media outlets: because this part of the interview comes after we had discussed these subjects in detail previously, it may create a false impression that I am leading him. It is also copyrighted material and we expect that any use of this audio would be accompanied by a prominent courtesy to www.FramingPaterno.com.)
John: In the February 2001 episode that Mike McQueary said he witnessed in the shower with you and the boy, did you see Mike McQueary on that night in question?
Jerry: No, I never saw Mike McQueary, and Tim Curley never told me who the person was who allegedly observed that. So I didn’t know up until the Grand Jury presentment who that was.
John: So you believe Mike McQueary was lying when he said he made clear eye contact with you that night?
Jerry: I don’t know that he’s lying. I think that he would be uncertain about it and he may have said that I thought that I saw him. But he wouldn’t have known that. How could he have known that?
John: Ok, but that’s an important distinction. He says you saw him. You have no recollection, no knowledge at all that he was even there that night, correct?
Jerry: Correct. That's correct.
John: And so when Tim Curley asked you about this episode a couple weeks later, he did not tell you who witnessed it, right?
Jerry: Absolutely, right, he never told me. I never really knew.
John: And you didn’t know it was Mike McQueary until it became public knowledge, correct?
John: When you finally, what your relationship with Mike McQueary after the 2001 incident?
Jerry: Our relationship really never changed. We never had an ongoing relationship of any kind. We saw each other occasionally. We would speak cordially. Now, I didn’t know that he was the person that saw me horsing around in the shower until 2011. I remember teasing and laughing with him at a fund raising football game for Easter Seals. He was a player for one team; I was an honorary coach for the opposing team. Occasionally I saw him when I was working out. Mike participated in two Second Mile golf outings following, you know, that 2001 time period. I may have teased him about his golf game there. On occasion after that, he came to me about a potential walk on from Central Mountain High School where I had volunteered, and I gave him some information on that young man.
John: So you didn’t notice any kind of tension in your relationship with Mike McQueary after the 2001 episode? Did that change at some point?
Jerry: Well, you know, it’s hard for me to determine. I wasn’t looking for that. But in hindsight, now, when I look back I remembered he kind of maybe in 2011, somewhere around that time frame, avoided contact with me possibly.
John: And that would have been around the time frame in which he started to either testify or was questioned by investigators or both.
Jerry: Right. That was around the time obviously when he was questioned.
John: And you noticed a chilling on his side in retrospect.
Jerry: In retrospect, yeah. Did I recognize it at the time? Not necessarily. In looking back, yes
Is that really how a guy who is perpetually lying would have reacted in that situation? To me, the answer to that question is obvious, especially since there were numerous other similar examples during our three and a half hours of questions and answers.
Thirdly, I think Sandusky is also credible on subjects not directly pertaining to his convictions because so much of what he told me (even the seemingly irrelevant details) is backed up by other evidence. The most telling example of this is the fact that McQueary got the date, month and year of the shower incident wrong and it was Sandusky who informed his attorney that this was the case (but in the “that doesn’t seem right to me” way, not in a “I remembered that exact date for ten years for no apparent reason” manner).
Almost every Sandusky recollection seems to come with a “certainty grade.” When he isn’t sure, he makes that very clear. In instances where he is confident that he remembers something I have only found one instance so far where he might be totally wrong. This came when I asked him about his relationship with Tim Curley’s son Tanner, who was about the same age as the “McQueary victim” was incorrectly thought to be.
It always seemed rather odd to me that Tim Curley would participate in a cover up of a child molester when he had a son who would be easily exposed to that person. When I mentioned this during our interview, Sandusky excitedly exclaimed that Tanner had attended his football camp after both the 1998 and 2001 episodes as if to say, “How the heck could that be true if Penn State thought I was a pedophile?!” However, I am told secondhand that it appears that Tanner did not attend Sandusky’s camp (though, strangely, Dottie Sandusky is also positive that Tanner did attend and even thinks she knows who his roommate was).
Finally, the last element of Sandusky’s perceived credibility deals with just the overall sense that I got from him. He answered all but two of my questions (including many which were far more confrontational/difficult than those he faced in his short, ill-fated, telephone interview with Costas) without a hint of fear, and with only one of those questions did I sense even the slightest attempt to avoid the heart of the matter. His tears seemed extremely real and not for show (after all, there was no video of any of this and he seemed to be trying hard not to cry).
For lack of a better way to put it, my BS detector, which is usually incredibly reliable, remained silent for the vast majority of the interview. This means that he is either the greatest liar and manipulator that I have ever run across (which is certainly possible), or there is something else going on here that is contrary to the public perception of his crimes.
At this point I do not pretend to know which one of these scenarios is true, or even most likely (maybe both?). I will say however that I do believe that, from a purely due process perspective, Sandusky did not receive a fair trial, mostly because of the very same crazed, media-driven, thirst for immediate “justice” which caused the rush to judgment against Joe Paterno and Penn State.
If you doubt me on that, please explain how it is legally fair to convict someone of serious crimes (as Sandusky was in the case of “unidentified” Victim 8) for an episode for which there is no victim, no witness, no specific date, and no contemporaneous report. Or, please tell me the last time a grand jury took over three years to indict and then that person was convicted just seven months later in a case this complex.
I also believe that it is a great disservice to the cause of fighting child sexual abuse for the media to have created a “monster” caricature of how Sandusky operated which is not really supported by the vast majority of the current evidence. It seems clear that a large part of the reason that Penn State didn’t react in a stronger fashion to allegations against Jerry Sandusky was that the nature of most of the evidence and accusations was far different than the perception which has been created mostly by the news media.
I am also convinced, for whatever it may be worth, that Sandusky truly does not believe that he did anything horrible or harmful to these kids, which I am told by experts is not unusual for these situations. The bottom line is that, in real life, the “good guy” offender is far more subtle and difficult to discern than the caricature the media has created here.
This clip is from the very end of the interview where I take the written advice of retired FBI sex crimes expert Jim Clemente (who is an author of one of the reports within the “Paterno Report”) in an effort to get Sandusky to talk more about what he may have actually done here. (Again, members of the media, this is copyrighted material and if you use it you must prominently courtesy www.FramingPaterno.com.)
John: Now, with regard to the over two dozen victims who claim various levels of abuse by you, is it your belief that they are all lying? Because a lot of people think that’s just not possible. How do people in your mind, Jerry, try to understand that because it’s not understandable to a lot of people that all those people could be lying?
Jerry: Some of those people might not even believe they’re lying. I think there were so many happenings, so many events that occurred. There was so much suggestive questioning. There were so many circumstances that were presented to them. There were so many incentives. I think that many things were exaggerated that it was total inconsistency in reports. One time this was said, I had done nothing. The next time after a civil attorney, I had done this and that. Then one time before a psychologist, nothing had transpired….
John: But Jerry, what do you say to the experts who say this is the way this tends to work is that a victim doesn’t even fully understand that they have been abused until later on and they get more information, more contacts, they become older. What do you say to that?
Jerry: What I say to that is that these things can also come out because of suggestions. The suggestion came from the media, from psychologists. I heard psychologists say there has to be more. There must be more. Well how many times do you hear this before you can bring it up? You can advocate it. You can exaggerate it. You can say well, this must have happened to me. That happens also, too. Horses can be led by suggestive questioning and things like that.
John: But you understand that people will say ok, that might happen two or three times, but a couple of dozen times to different people? Do you understand why people can say that seems impossible?
Jerry: They should look into all the people. I think that the only thing you can do is go one by one by one. Analyze each one and look at each circumstance and read the transcription. See what really transpired. See what was said here and what was said there. When you do that then I think you have a different reaction to the whole thing.
John: Now Jerry, we’ve talked now for about three-and-a-half hours and I gotta tell you my impression is that. you never intended to harm these boys. In your mind, you never did harm them. I think you love them. I think you did great things for them and with them. I think they loved you back. But I also think that things may have gone further than what, you know, you have said that they have gone. And I think people would be more forgiving and remember you better if you go and tell the full truth. And this might be your last real chance to do that, Jerry. Why don’t you come clean and admit that you did touch some of those boys inappropriately?
John: Why don’t you do that?!
Jerry: Because I didn’t. Yeah, I hugged them. Maybe I tested boundaries. Maybe I shouldn’t have showered with them. Yeah, I tickled them. I looked at them as being probably younger than even some of them were. But I didn’t do any of these horrible acts and abuse these young people. I didn’t violate them. I didn’t harm them.
John: When you say maybe you tested boundaries, why would you be testing boundaries?
Jerry: Why would I be testing boundaries? I may have tested boundaries because of my enthusiasm and my yearning to make a difference in lives. Because of my efforts to make a difference in their lives.
John: But why would you need to test boundaries to do that?
Jerry: I mean some people feel that showering with kids was a test of a boundary.
Jerry: I didn’t think that at that time.
John: You do now, though.
Jerry: Well, after this experience, yeah, I wonder if I don’t think that probably wasn’t the right thing to do. However, at that point in time, that was how I grew up. That was based on my experiences where I grew up at a recreation center. Those were my experiences as a physical education…
John: Jerry, were you ever touched inappropriately when you were a child?
John: You’re sure?
John: Your father and you had a good relationship?
Jerry: A great relationship.
There were a couple of other important impressions I got from Sandusky which were both surprising as well as significant.
One of those was that is it obvious that Jerry Sandusky, even after all the damage that he has single handedly done to Joe Paterno’s legacy, still has some open hostility towards Paterno. I knew that the narrative that some in the media had peddled that Paterno and Sandusky were close was false (thus the one photo the media kept using of them acting buddy-buddy from the mid 80’s) but I was shocked, given the circumstances, how relatively little affinity he showed towards his old head coach with whom he won two national titles.
It was obvious that they never saw each other after Sandusky retired (it is a media myth that his office after retiring was next to Paterno’s then, it was in a different building entirely). Sandusky insists that Paterno never spoke to him about either the 1998 or 2001 episodes (which, he says, would definitely not have been Paterno’s style if he thought there was any sort of issue) and showed no signs that his view of Sandusky ever changed.
He says he remembers well a conversation in 2009 when, while attending a rare Penn State football practice with some coaches from Juniata College, that Paterno came over and spoke well of Sandusky, apparently under the impression that Jerry may do some coaching at that school. Sandusky did get extremely emotional talking about what Joe and his wife Sue were forced to endure because of all of this, but even then it seemed to be more through the narcissistic prism of how it all impacted Jerry.
The other thing about Sandusky which really stunned me was that I came away totally persuaded that, in his mind, the 1998 investigation (which centered on an allegation of bear-hugging a kid in a shower and involved just about every conceivable law enforcement agency but which did not result in charges at that time) was no big deal. This was a point on which Sandusky was most adamant and one where his self interest seemed almost bizarrely reversed.
Sandusky insisted that, from his perspective, the entire 1998 investigation amounted to a meeting with the mother, a phone call, a meeting in a locker room with two investigators, and a letter informing him that the allegation had been declared unfounded. In his memory, it took almost no time and it clearly did not put the “Fear of God” into him that a rational person might have expected (this discussion began with me asking him how in the world he would ever shower with another boy alone after almost being charged in 1998).
In fact, I got the very strong sense that Sandusky himself is actually angry at those who conducted the 1998 investigation for NOT making it seem like a bigger deal to him and giving him a stronger “warning.”
There appear to be two possible explanations for this being Sandusky’s perspective.
Either he has massive boundary issues (as seen above, he does admit more to me on this front than he ever has before and in a way which I think may explain what was really going on here) and wishes someone had given him a better “heads up” that he was eventually going to get himself in big trouble, or there is a “Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde” thing going on and the “good” Jerry is upset that the authorities didn’t get a handle on the “evil” Jerry until it was too late.
It should also be noted that the boy (“Victim 6”) in the 1998 allegation maintained an extremely close relationship with Sandusky for years after that episode and did so with his mother’s full knowledge and acceptance. Over ten years later the young man sent Sandusky these two, apparently never previously published, text messages: “Happy Thanksgiving bro! I’m glad God has placed U in my life. Ur an awesome friend! Love ya!” (November 27, 2009) and “Hey jerry just want 2 wish u a Happy Fathers Day! Greater things are yet 2 come!” (June 20, 2010).
The continuing of this close relationship is very important because the mother of Victim 6 was used by future Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Sara Ganim just after the indictments (thanks to evidence in discovery Sandusky believes Ganim also used that mother differently while effectively working on behalf of the prosecution during the grand jury investigation) to create the narrative that the mothers of the two primary victims were blaming Penn State and Joe Paterno.
This storyline was both false (the second mother cited in Ganim’s report, that of Aaron Fisher, clearly blamed the high school and not Penn State) and absurd. After all, what right did the mother of Victim 6 have to blame Penn State when she knew far more about what happened in 1998 than they did and knowingly allowed her son to have a very close relationship with him for years after that (even personally begging Jerry for tickets to his final home game just one year after the investigation in 1999)? Jerry is adamant that the mother of Victim 6, who has had enormous financial problems, is focusing on Penn State primarily out of an interest in deep pockets.
I wish to make it clear that I realize that much of what I have written here is going to cause me to be blindly attacked by those who wrongly think that I am somehow defending a child molester. Because I know this is the farthest thing from the truth, I am prepared for that reality with a clean conscience.
My only interest in all of this is finding the truth. I fervently believe that the truth has got to still matter and that Joe Paterno’s final wish to find it here deserved to be granted. I strongly think that after my interview with Jerry Sandusky we are now closer to finding out what that truth is than we ever have been before. In the coming days I will be revealing the pertinent information that has been gleaned for that interview on these pages. Much of it significantly changes the accepted narrative of this story in a way that, much to the chagrin of the news media, is very positive for the cause of Joe Paterno and Penn State.
This quest for the truth must and will continue.