A celebrity trial requires a star witness, the voice that defines the case and must be undermined if the defense is going to be successful. In the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case, that voice belongs to Mike McQueary, and on Tuesday he spoke loudly and publicly.
For more than an hour on the stand, McQueary described what he says he saw on a fateful winter night in 2001 in the locker room showers at Penn State University. Perhaps more important, he then held his ground during an 85-minute cross-examination by the defense.
The prosecution resumes its case Wednesday. At least six more men who say they were abused by Sandusky are expected to testify in the coming days. Their testimony, sometimes graphic and often personally painful, is likely to move the jury. Some jurors were seen drying their eyes when the man known as Victim 1 tearfully spoke on Tuesday of being assaulted and forced to perform oral sex on Sandusky.
Photos: Who's who in Sandusky case
But it was McQueary’s testimony that the defense had to shake -- for two crucial reasons.
One, McQueary is both an adult and a prosecution eyewitness who says Sandusky abused a boy; the bulk of the other witnesses were children at the time of their alleged abuse.
The defense has argued that the boys’ memories could be dicey and that their motives, including profiting from possible civil suits, are suspect. McQueary also might sue the university, but his complaint would come from the aftermath of the investigation, not from an alleged assault.
Two, McQueary is the only person who can testify about the events in the shower at Penn State; the boy in question has never been identified. It was that encounter that set off the string of events that shook Penn State, led to the dismissal of its prized football coach and the university president and pending criminal charges against two other administrators.
Sandusky has acknowledged showering with boys, but has denied assaulting them.
The defense made it clear early on that it was gunning for McQueary. During his opening statement, defense attorney Joseph Amendola stressed the two key points that would be used to undermine McQueary. For starters, he pointed out, the former graduate student has changed his story, even such details as the year when the assault took place.
And, he continued, if there had really been a sexual assault, shouldn’t McQueary have called police instead of seeking advice from his father and eventually going to head football coach Joe Paterno?
“We don't think Michael McQueary lied,” Amendola said this week. “What we think is that he saw something and made assumptions.”
The story that McQueary told when he finally took the stand in Bellefonte, Pa., was expected. He'd similarly described the events to a grand jury and to a judge at a preliminary hearing for the college administrators facing criminal charges, including perjury, in connection with the scandal.
McQueary said he went to the gym and saw a naked Sandusky grasping a boy, between 10 and 12 years old, who was pushed against the shower wall. McQueary said he had no doubt he was witnessing a sex act.
It was “very much skin-on-skin smacking sound,” he said. “I immediately became alert and was kind of embarrassed that I was walking in on something.”
He said he slammed the locker door to try to alert Sandusky to his presence, an attempt to break up what was happening. He said he later sought counsel from his dad.
“It was more than my brain could handle,” McQueary said. “I was making decisions on the fly. I picked up the phone and called my father to get advice from the person I trusted most in my life, because I just saw something ridiculous.”
The next day, McQueary said, he went to Paterno; eventually, top administrators were contacted. Sandusky was charged after a later investigation initiated by one of his accusers.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Karl Rominger questioned why McQueary changed the dates of his recollection, first saying the events happened in 2002, then correcting it to 2001.
“I recall a lot of things in my life that are very clear and vivid, and I don’t know the dates, sir,” McQueary responded.
McQueary was also asked how he could be sure about the details, especially since some of what he saw was in a mirror. Here too McQueary’s story has changed over time.
But McQueary, a former football coach now on leave from Penn State because of the scandal, said he was sure what he had seen. “I did not see an erection; I did not see an actual penis inserted into anything,” McQueary said, according to courtroom reports. But there was no question where Sandusky’s genitals were, he said.
As for calling authorities, McQueary insisted he thought he did his duty by making a noise during the encounter and by later going to his bosses at the university.
Photos: Who's who in Sandusky case
“It's been well publicized that I didn't [physically] stop it," McQueary said. “Did I pull the boy out of there? Did I physically go assault somebody, did I remove him?”
McQueary went on to insist that by slamming the locker door and making a noise, he did break up the incident.
He later tartly accused the defense of “playing semantics.”
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