Sandusky Sex-Abuse Trial Revisits Penn State Low Point
By Sophia Pearson and John Hechinger - Jun 11, 2012 12:00 AM ET
Prosecutors are set to begin making their case against Jerry Sandusky, the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach accused of using his charity and school ties to target and sexually abuse young boys.
Sandusky, 68, is charged with 52 criminal counts for allegedly abusing 10 boys over 15 years. If convicted by the state court jury, he could go to prison for the rest of his life. Opening statements are scheduled to begin today in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.
Former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky arrives at Centre County Courthouse before jury selection for his trial on June 5, 2012 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Photographer: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Joe Paterno, Penn State’s head football coach, was fired in November, as was university President Graham Spanier, for failing to act when accusations against Sandusky came to light more than a decade ago. Paterno, who wasn’t charged with a crime, died of cancer in January at age 85. Two other school officials were charged for their handling of the matter.
“It certainly ranks among the worst incidents in the history of American higher education,” Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the Washington-based American Council on Education, which represents college presidents, said in a phone interview. “It will take a while for Penn State to come to terms with this. You never move beyond it. When you write the history of Penn State, this will certainly be the low point.”
Sandusky was initially accused Nov. 5 of crimes involving eight boys. Prosecutors added more counts the following month when two new accusers came forward. The counts against Sandusky include 11 charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, each punishable by as long as 20 years in prison.
Sandusky maintains his innocence. In papers filed in May, Sandusky said allegations regarding four victims are so general that he can’t adequately prepare a defense.
Joseph Amendola, his attorney, argued that charges involving two alleged victims whose identities are still unknown to authorities should be thrown out.
On June 8, Judge John M. Cleland, who is presiding over the trial, rejected that request to dismiss charges.
The heart of the prosecution’s case is the testimony of eight alleged victims, now ranging in age from 18 to 28. They will be identified publicly for the first time in court after Cleland denied their request to use pseudonyms.
“If these eight men are not believable or there are gaps in their stories, or if one of them doesn’t seem credible –that could threaten the government’s case,” said Michael McCann, director of Vermont Law School’s Sports Law Institute, who has been following and writing about the case.
Prosecutors say Sandusky used the charity he founded in 1977, The Second Mile, to recruit victims, “grooming” them with gifts, trips to football games and money. The children ranged in age from 10 to 15 when the alleged abuse occurred.
Second Mile served children with physical, emotional and academic needs, according to its website. The charity said last month that it would close and transfer its assets to a Houston- based nonprofit. Those assets more than tripled from 2002 through 2009, according to Internal Revenue Service filings. Second Mile had revenue of $2.7 million and net assets of $9 million, according to its 2010 annual report. Sandusky was the group’s primary fundraiser.
Second Mile supporters with ties to Penn State included former university spokesman Steve Hevner and Dorothy Huck, the wife of Penn State emeritus board trustee Lloyd Huck, who sat on the charity’s state board.
In 2002, Penn State sold land for a new learning center to Second Mile, according to documents submitted to the state as part of charity’s application for a $3 million construction grant. State officials dropped the grant in November after Sandusky was charged.
Paterno won 409 games and two national championships in 46 years as its coach. Sandusky was an assistant under Paterno from 1969 until his retirement at the end of the 1999 season and was the architect of defenses that built Penn State’s reputation as “Linebacker U.”
According to testimony in a grand jury report released at the time of Sandusky’s arrest, he allegedly abused boys in the showers of a school athletic building and invited victims to Penn State games, as well as into his home.
“He had a modus operandi in how he dealt with these children,” Lisa Friel, former chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex crimes unit and now vice president of sexual misconduct consulting for T&M Protection Resources LLC, a security and investigations company. “It’s the typical MO of a pedophile.”
Penn State has said it’s cooperating with investigations by the state attorney general, the U.S. Education Department, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and federal authorities.
“The acts that Jerry Sandusky is accused of committing are horrible and if proven true, deserve punishment,” the university said in a statement June 5. “In deference to the legal process, the university will not comment on specifics of the ongoing legal case as it unfolds. We are hopeful, however, that the case proceeds quickly and provides answers we are all seeking.”
A Jury of seven women and five men was selected to try the case. At least six of the 12 have ties to Penn State or possible witnesses, including a woman who has been a season ticket holder since the 1970s, a man who’s currently a Penn State junior and a man who is a retired Penn State soil science professor. Of the four alternate jurors, three women and one man, two have ties to Penn State.
After the firings of Paterno and Spanier in November, police in riot gear used pepper spray to disperse thousands of protesters chanting “We Are Penn State.” Since then, the scandal’s effect on Penn State has been mixed.
Eighty-two percent of alumni had positive feelings about the university, according to a survey Penn State released June 7. That was down from 91 percent in 2009, the last time the school asked its graduates.
President Rodney Erickson told The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that giving had fallen, though he said that was because the school received an $88 million gift the year before for a hockey arena, according to an interview transcript released this month.
Applications are up this year, as are the number of recruiters visiting campus and the number of donors, Bill Mahon, a Penn State vice president, said in an e-mail.
Penn State may be weathering the scandal because in-state students — who pay lower tuition than at private and out-of- state colleges — probably won’t look elsewhere in a weak economy, said Robert M. O’Neil, former president of the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin system. Neither are faculty and prospective professors, he said.
“In these uncertain times, faculty and students are unlikely to defect,” O’Neil said. “Could anything happen in the Sandusky trial to change that? The worst is already known. I can’t imagine anything would.”
The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Sandusky, CP- 14-2422-2011, Court of Common Pleas, Centre County, Pennsylvania (Bellefonte).