Rich Hofmann: Jerry Sandusky, fiend of the court

Jerry Sandusky leaves court after Day 1 of his trial without many reasons to smile. PATRICK SMITH / GETTY IMAGES
Jerry Sandusky leaves court after Day 1 of his trial without many reasons to smile. PATRICK SMITH / GETTY IMAGES

If this is how jurors see Sandusky after Day 1 of his trial, his attorney needs to rally

Posted: June 13, 2012

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — He is alleged victim No. 4, named in the courtroom but not here. Twenty-eight years old, he wore a white shirt and dark tie. He was on the witness stand for nearly four hours. During breaks, he would cover his mouth, scratch behind his ear, knit and unknit his fingers, fidgeting, but his testimony was firm and unshaken. He buried Jerry Sandusky.

Before the witness began, defense attorney Joseph Amendola pleaded with the jury to keep an open mind because he knew what was coming. The prosecution had already shown the pictures of eight young boys on a courtroom video screen, eight young boys who are now eight young men scheduled to testify that they were sexually abused by Sandusky, the former Penn State football defensive coordinator. As each picture was revealed, Sandusky looked up at the screen. One could only imagine what he was thinking.

In his opening statement, Amendola described his job as a "daunting task." He said it was "similar to climbing Mount Everest." He said the testimony would be graphic. He said, "It's going to be awful. That doesn't make it true."

And, on the first day, Amendola was right. It was awful — not only the allegations that Sandusky forced a boy who was then in his mid-teens to perform oral sex in showers on the Penn State campus "40 times, at least," but also the assertion that "[h]e treated me like a son in front of other people. ... Outside of that, he treated me like his girlfriend."

That last bit came on cross-examination. The most memorable quotes all came on cross-examination. There were no tears. Rather, alleged victim No. 4 seemed to get stronger each time Amendola attempted to poke even the smallest hole in his story.

Asked why he had not broken off his relationship with Sandusky quicker than he did, the witness, who said that he did not know much of his natural father at the time and did not like either his stepfather or his grandfather, testified: "I didn't want to lose the good things I had. I looked at Jerry as kind of a father figure. ... I didn't want to lose somebody actually paying attention to me."

Asked why he initially rebuffed police investigators, and then told his full story for the first time to the grand jury investigating the case, he said, "I've spent so many years burying this in the back of my head."

Then, asked again by Amendola about his motivations, the witness came out with what might have been the most heartbreaking few seconds of the first day. He said, after hearing about the other allegations, "I feel, if I just had said something back then, this wouldn't have happened. ... I feel responsible for the other victims."

(Which, when you think about it, makes him the only person touched by this case who has said those words out loud. Certainly, no one at Penn State has, from the late Joe Paterno on down.)

From the witness stand, it rang true, all of it. And when he was done late on Monday afternoon, the allegations now had their first face, and voice. Then again, there was another voice — that of Sandusky himself, in the form of letters he wrote to the alleged victim during a relationship that began in 1996 after a camp at Penn State sponsored by The Second Mile, the charity founded by Sandusky.

"Some of them were almost like creepy love letters," the alleged victim said.

The creepiest among them was one of those projected on the courtroom video screen. It said: "I know that I have made my share of mistakes. However, I hope that I will be able to say that I cared. There has always been love in my heart.

“My wish is that you care and that you have love in your heart. Love never ends. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I believe that it can overcome all things.

“Love Jerry"

Amendola attempted to balance this by having the alleged victim read the text of two more benign letters. He began to work his main defense strategy — as he said, that "money is the root of all evil" — by pointing out that the alleged victim was lawyered up before he spoke to the police.

But, again getting stronger with each probe by Amendola, the witness said that the lawyer was provided by his father and that he has never discussed a civil suit with him. In the end, Amendola did not shake the alleged victim, not on anything, not even an inch.

Leaving the courtroom after the first day, there really was only one relevant question:

What is taller than Everest?  

Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com, read his blog, The Idle Rich, at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich, or follow @theidlerich on Twitter. For recent columns, go to philly.com/RichHofmann.

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