By Steve Kallas
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As you know, a jury recently convicted former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky of 45 of 48 counts of some form of sexual abuse of 10 victims. Sandusky will go to prison for the rest of his life with little or no hope of winning an appeal (more on that later). But the disconnect between Jerry Sandusky and what happened and, arguably, the disconnect between his lawyer, Joe Amendola, and what happened before and during the trial mark the end of an unmitigated disaster.
What Was The Defense?
Well, there really didn’t seem to be one. Now, to be fair, there was little, if any, defense to be put forth. But, maybe, an insanity defense? Maybe, after a bizarre promise (by his lawyer in opening statements) to put Sandusky on the stand, the one-in-a-million (ten million?) chance that one juror would buy the it-was-all-a-big-misunderstanding defense? No, the lawyer had to go back on that statement during his opening, explaining after the trial that the possible testimony of Matt Sandusky (Jerry’s adopted son who claimed he was abused by his adoptive father) and other reasons made it a very tough decision. Let me know the next time that “very tough decision” results in a defendant actually testifying. It rarely happens.
Sandusky’s lawyer was roundly (and correctly) criticized for allowing his client to speak to Bob Costas on national TV. If you ever didn’t understand why, so many times, a lawyer won’t allow his client to speak, all you have to do is watch the Costas interview of Sandusky and listen to his painful answer to a simple question, “Are you sexually attracted to young boys, underage boys?” It was so bad for Sandusky that the prosecution played it during the trial, a nightmare for virtually any defendant. A lesson to be learned and an explanation for those who can’t understand why lawyers’ don’t let their clients speak to the public.
The evidence was overwhelming, the appellate issues are virtually non-existent, and Joe Amendola seemed to be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. For example, after the verdict came in, he complimented everybody (judge, jury, prosecutors) on the way they handled the case. To do this on the courthouse steps right after the verdict was also a bit bizarre. The one point of “disagreement” was with the judge’s refusal to give the defense more time to prepare for trial.
Of course, Jerry Sandusky (and certainly his lawyer) probably knew that the moment he was convicted he would never see a free day for the rest of his life (remember, he was not in prison during the trial). But that part of any appeal (I didn’t have enough time to prepare) has virtually no chance of success. In reality, the defense could have taken years to prepare and not come up with something plausible.
The End Of A Disaster
So the jury verdict and the bizarre press conference afterwards mark the end of a disaster (you don’t have to wait for sentencing and anyone in the courtroom became well aware of the pain and suffering of these victims (civil suits to follow)). Indeed, when Joe Amendola dared to make the statement that there are many innocent people in prison, the crowd’s reaction was swift – booing and hissing. To somehow intimate, because there are innocent people in prison, that his client was maybe innocent was beyond the pale, even for a lawyer who was in a deep hole from day one.
The Beginning Of A Disaster
Well, some of the evidence in the trial and other later discovered (leaked?) e-mails show the magnitude of the next disaster coming down the road: The lawsuits against Penn State, Sandusky, Second Mile and maybe individuals like Tim Curley (former athletic director) and Gary Schultz (former vice president), both under indictment relating for their testimony in the Sandusky case. Indeed, just recently, there may be other evidence that will lead to possible civil suits against former Penn State president Graham Spanier and even the estate of legendary football coach Joe Paterno.
For Spanier to write to Curley and Schultz that it would be “humane” to treat Sandusky by not making the allegations public back in 2002 (or go to the authorities) might very well be the smoking gun to put a wealthy university on the hook for tens of millions of dollars. Plus, if it’s true that the president and his underlings were initially going to go to the authorities and then, after a meeting between the president and Paterno, the plan was changed to just slap Sandusky on the wrist, well, that could put the Paterno estate and legacy at great risk.
This new disaster will take years to complete and, although Penn State has set up a fund to try and deal with the claims of the victims, there still (absent gigantic payments to all of the victims (expect more to come forth now)) might be civil suits filed against some or possibly all of the above-named potential defendants.
So, it was really a trick question posed at the beginning of this column. The reality is that it’s both the end and the beginning of a disaster and, while the victims will be compensated, they will never get back their childhoods. And the damage to individuals and to Penn State will be more than money; the only question is how much more?
That remains to be answered.