Rich Hofmann: Will the ghost of JoePa haunt Sandusky courtroom?

DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 15, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Outside Beaver Stadium, the area around the Joe Paterno statue was quiet the other day. It was as you would expect. School is out, football has not restarted, and the Jerry Sandusky child-sexual-abuse trial is about 10 miles away in Bellefonte.

In recent months, tumultuous months, the statue has been the scene of defiant protest, prayerful vigil, and a heartfelt memorial. There was no evidence of any of that, though. A single, cheap-glass vase sat at the base of the statue. It held two wilting daisies.

There is so much we do not know yet, but every new bit of information — of decade-old emails being found, and multiple ongoing investigations — raises more questions about who knew what, and when. Still, those answers are months away. Starting Monday, there is a different issue. That is when Sandusky is likely to begin putting on his defense against 52 allegations involving 10 young boys.

The testimony this week has been nauseating. The cross-examination against much of it has been ineffective. And as we wait through a long weekend for defense attorney Joseph Amendola to call his first witness, a larger question hangs over everything.

That is, will the ghost of JoePa be dragged through the courtroom in Bellefonte next week?

The defense's witness list, said to include about 60 potential names, features these two: Sue Paterno and Jay Paterno, wife and son. What they could possibly add to the proceedings is unclear, to say the least. No one has said that Sue and Jay saw anything, or heard anything, or know anything.

Before his death, Joe Paterno testified to a grand jury that in 2001, assistant coach Mike McQueary told him that he saw Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy" in a locker-room shower. That would seem to cover the question.

Why Sue, then? Why Jay?

And how could Sandusky benefit?

The framework of a defense — that the accusers are motivated by money to be won in civil suits; that the charges lack the necessary specificity in some cases, and that the accusations have been coaxed out of the alleged victims by investigators desperate to make a case — has begun to be built.

But in a motion filed on Monday, the defense asked that it be allowed to admit prior grand-jury statements made by former Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz if they were to refuse to testify for fear of self-incrimination. Curley and Schultz already have been charged with perjury in this matter, and there are people who believe Spanier could be next, based upon recently uncovered emails.

In those statements, there was the assertion that McQueary never mentioned sex but, instead, generalized "horsing around." The judge has yet to rule. But the very fact that the Penn State officials seem to be a part of the defense strategy just makes you wonder.

Again, the question:

What to do about Joe?

So far, both sides have been ultracareful about referencing the Penn State legend. It really is the third rail of this case. Because so many of the jurors have ties, either direct or tangential, to the university, no one can know for sure what each individual's reaction might be if the Paterno name were to become part of the discussion of Sandusky.

It is fair to say that many, many people still revere Paterno, and see him as a victim in the Sandusky case. Others were disappointed by Paterno's decision to tell Curley, his nominal boss, and not the police, about McQueary's story. Others were outraged, and worry about a more systematic cover-up because of allegations against Sandusky that were investigated by university police in 1998.

But where is each juror's heart? And how would bringing this discussion into the case help Sandusky?

So far, prosecutor Joseph McGettigan has told the jury, "Pennsylvania State University is not on trial." But at least one of the accusers, alleged victim No. 4, testified that he was seen at times in a Penn State locker room by four assistant coaches, and that one — Tom Bradley, who became Paterno's interim successor — once showered with him and Sandusky.

"I can't say what [Bradley's] thoughts were, but I think he was suspicious," he said. "He came in and showered until we left."

Then there was McQueary. Despite universal public statements that nobody on the staff knew anything about the allegations against Sandusky, McQueary said that he used to leave the area whenever Sandusky would show up. He said, "Informally, I would go around to my peers and they saw my reactions ... I'd say, ‘What in the heck are we letting him in the building [for]?' "

Amendola, in his opening, made a reference to how the scandal "brought down so many different aspects of our community." He said, "We've all heard stories about cover-ups. We've heard all kinds of stories."

But, Amendola concluded, if McQueary told a family friend and several university officials that he saw a rape and they did not call the police, "It just doesn't make sense. Four grown men. All respected. Not including Joe Paterno — leave him out of the mix."

But can they leave him out? And how will the jury react if the defense makes Joe Paterno part of this trial?

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

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