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Sandusky case all but indefensible

THE NATION

A juror, legal analysts and even his attorney say evidence of abuse was overwhelming.

June 24, 2012|Adam Clark and Nicole Radzievich
  • Joe Amendola, defense attorney for Jerry Sandusky, talks to journalists after Sandusky was convicted of 45 charges related to child sexual abuse. Amendola and another defender say they didn't have enough time to prepare an adequate defense.
Joe Amendola, defense attorney for Jerry Sandusky, talks to journalists… (Nabil K. Mark, Centre Daily…)

STATE COLLEGE, PA. — Powerful and convincing testimony from all eight victims was the fulcrum of the jury's decision to find former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse, one juror said Saturday.

"I didn't find anything -- that the way they spoke, the way they gave their testimony -- that they were lying," Joshua Harper said in an interview at his home in Boalsburg. "They were honestly telling us the truth."

Jurors, who were sequestered and deliberated for 21 hours, were careful and patient, Harper said. They gave little weight to defense attorney Joe Amendola's argument that prosecutors had concocted a conspiracy against Sandusky among the victims.

"It was just too farfetched," said Harper, a high school teacher and father of three. "It wasn't an evidence-based reasonable doubt."

As the verdict was read in court late Friday night, Harper said, he looked at Sandusky and interpreted his unemotional response as passive acceptance of their guilty verdicts.

"It just confirmed that he was guilty," Harper said. He said he also took note of Sandusky's demeanor when the victims testified. "He would put his chin up in the air, and look at them like, 'Hmm ... do you really want to be saying this?' " Harper said.

After being led away in handcuffs Friday night, Sandusky is likely to spend the rest of his life incarcerated. At sentencing within the next 90 days, he faces a possible maximum of 442 years.

Also on Saturday, one of Sandusky's lawyers said the mountain of documents, lengthy grand jury investigation and other evidence against their client so overwhelmed the defense that on the eve of the trial, they tried to resign.

Joe Amendola and Karl Rominger made a sealed motion as Sandusky's jury selection began, arguing they had not had enough time to sift through the information and prepare for the trial, Rominger said during a weekly talk-radio show he hosts in Pennsylvania. But Judge John M. Cleland ruled against them.

"We were running many days by the seat of our pants, just trying to catch up," Amendola said after the jury's guilty verdicts on 45 counts of sexual abuse. "[Guilty] was the expected outcome because of the overwhelming amount of evidence."

Sandusky, 68, was arrested seven months ago after a grand jury investigation, and preparing for trial in that time frame is considered quick by Pennsylvania standards, lawyers in the state said. That is expected to become a focal point in Sandusky's appeal, his attorneys said.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors wove a tale of Sandusky's ongoing sexual abuse against boys mainly through wrenching and graphic testimony from eight victims, including some who described soapy showers and forced acts of sodomy and oral sex.

Legal analysts said the body of evidence made for a difficult case for defense attorneys. The sheer volume of evidence against Sandusky was daunting, as Amendola put it. But no case is indefensible, legal experts said.

"There is always a defense, a cross-examination, a way to take it apart piece by piece or present character evidence," said Terence Houck, Northampton County first deputy district attorney. "Was this case indefensible? No. Was this guy's defense absurd? Yes. He had nothing. The evidence was overwhelming."

Others charged in seemingly open-and-shut cases have been found not guilty, experts said, citing the Casey Anthony case last year in Florida. Although her trial dealt with different charges and types of evidence, the perceived strength of the prosecution's case led the public to believe in her guilt, even sending Anthony -- acquitted of killing her daughter -- into hiding.

Prosecutors had to convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Sandusky was guilty. The defense needed to convince only one juror there were holes in the case.

But Sandusky's case was as close as it gets to indefensible, said Jeff Lindy, an attorney who defended Msgr. William J. Lynn, the first Roman Catholic official convicted in a coverup of child sexual abuse. The verdict in that high-profile case was also announced Friday in Pennsylvania. Lynn was found guilty of child endangerment and acquitted of conspiracy and another endangerment charge.

"You can't fault Amendola for taking it to trial," Lindy said. "People go to trial because they're knuckleheads, or people go to trial because they're innocent, or people go to trial because they've got nothing to lose. This guy had nothing to lose," Lindy said of Sandusky.

Typically, sexual abuse cases involve one or two victims, and jurors must decide who is believable, legal experts said. But the charges against Sandusky involved 10 boys over a 15-year span. Eight accusers testified to similar abuse, allowing prosecutors to paint a picture of how Sandusky used his Second Mile charity for the disadvantaged to recruit boys whom he would provide with gifts and then abuse.

"It's not the sheer number of victims," said Seth Weber, a retired federal prosecutor. "It's the number of quality witnesses that count. And these were quality witnesses."

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adam.clark@mcall.com

nmertz@mcall.com

Clark reported from State College and Radzievich from Allentown.

Times staff writer Laura Nelson in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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