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Jerry Sandusky trial: Now, it's the defense's turn

June 17, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • Attorney Joe Amendola makes some parting comments as he leaves the Centre County Courthouse after the fourth day of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse trial.
Attorney Joe Amendola makes some parting comments as he leaves the Centre… (Michael Kubel / Allentown…)

The defense takes over the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse trial this week, getting the chance to give its vision of the former Penn State football coach and his relationships with young boys.

The prosecution, which on Thursday presented the last of the eight accusers who say they were abused by Sandusky, is expected to formally rest, perhaps as soon as Monday. Then it will be the defense’s turn.

The defense hopes to banish the prosecution image of Sandusky as a predatory pedophile and replace it with a favorable version of the former coach as a humanitarian helping needy children. He was affectionate, perhaps too much so because of a personality disorder, but Sandusky never committed a criminal act, it will argue.

PHOTOS: Who's who in the Sandusky case

The defense is also likely to continue to press its view that Sandusky is a victim of overzealous prosecutors and witnesses, possibly acting out of greed for a payday from civil suits.

Sandusky, 68, is charged with 52 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years at various locales, including his home and in the showers at the football training building at Penn State University. If convicted, he could be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

The charges became the focal point of a scandal that rocked Penn State, just 10 miles from the Bellfonte, Pa., courthouse where Sandusky is on trial. The scandal eventually cost head football coach Joe Paterno and University President Graham Spanier their jobs. Two other university officials await trial on criminal charges stemming from how the university handled reports of Sandusky’s alleged activities.

Throughout the prosecution’s presentation, Sandusky has been portrayed as a man who groomed boys as young as 10 with gifts such as sports memorabilia and equipment. He took them to football games and made them feel special, but eventually made physical overtures, the accusers testified. The alleged abuse ranged from inappropriate touching to various sex acts.

On Friday, Judge John Cleland granted a defense motion to allow evidence that Sandusky was suffering from histrionic personality disorder, a condition that the defense argued helps explain the actions that the prosecution has called the grooming of potential victims. Cleland also said that Sandusky has to make himself available to prosecutors so they can prepare rebuttal psychiatric testimony.

But after days of graphic, tearful and dramatic testimony, the defense faces a difficult task.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Joseph Amendola compared his job to climbing Mt. Everest and gave some hints of the type of case he will present. Sandusky will be portrayed as a humanitarian with a heart of gold, a saint-like figure who mentored boys at the Second Mile, the charity he founded for at-risk children. His actions will be presented as the kind that one would expect from a loving father figure.

In an exchange with one of the accusers known as Victim 6, Amendola set that tone, citing an investigator’s report at the time. The boy said in 1998 that Sandusky had never touched him sexually or asked him to touch the ex-coach sexually while they showered.

“I could sort of feel like he kissed me once or twice on the head, like you would kiss your child, you know what I mean,” the boy said in the transcript, according to news reports from the courtroom.

“Like you would kiss a child,” Amendola repeated, stressing the point that the contact could be seen as a typical one between an adult and child.

The exchange also goes to the defense’s second line of attack: that the prosecution witnesses’ stories have changed over time. Victim 6 denied he was touched by Sandusky during the original inquiry, but testified last week that his view of the encounter had evolved.

“My perception changed,” Victim 6 said, according to news reports. “Thinking about it as an adult as opposed to as an 11-year old.… That was inappropriate.”

The changing story line of defense is important in dealing with other witnesses as well.

For example, Mike McQueary, the former graduate student testified that he saw Sandusky committing a sex act in the shower with a boy of 10 or 12. However, McQueary originally said under oath that the encounter took place in 2002, then amended it to 2001. Amendola questioned the discrepancy, which he used as a wedge to try to undermine all of McQueary’s testimony.

“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. Later in the cross-examination, as the pair dueled over what McQueary said he saw, McQueary accused the defense of “playing semantics.”

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