Rich Hofmann: Keeping Sandusky silent was a good move, but does it matter?

Jerry Sandusky, smiling on a day that his defense team decided to keep him off the witness stand. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Jerry Sandusky, smiling on a day that his defense team decided to keep him off the witness stand. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 22, 2012

BELLEFONTE, PA. — Word began to leak during the morning recess that Jerry Sandusky would not be testifying.

The courtroom was full, people talking, kibitzing, watching the lawyers go in and out of the judge's chambers, and then Sandusky himself going in and out, and then everyone awaiting those final few minutes before defense attorney Joseph Amendola rose and said, "Your Honor, at this time, the defense rests."

Before all that, Amendola and a couple of his associates and Sandusky all sat at their table. Relaxed did not begin to describe their demeanor. Waiting for the jury to be brought in, Amendola leaned over and said something and Sandusky burst into laughter. For a second, just a second, it was hard to imagine him as the defendant in this case, charged with 51 counts of child sexual assault involving 10 alleged victims.

It is a case that has torn at the image of Penn State University, where Sandusky was a longtime football coach before his retirement in 1999. The university continues to investigate allegations of a coverup of Sandusky's actions, and the state continues to prosecute two university administrators for perjury. Whatever this jury decides, in deliberations scheduled to being Thursday, this story is not nearly over.

But this trial is, just about. And we did not hear from Jerry Sandusky under oath.

It was, when viewed objectively, the only sane decision this defense team could have made. There was a hint in Amendola's opening that Sandusky would testify, and there have been rumors for days that they were preparing him to take the stand. But the guy is a conversational time bomb and everybody knows it.

When Amendola put him on television with NBC's Bob Costas, the world saw a man who, famously, stumbled over the question of whether he was sexually attracted to young boys, before finally saying that he wasn't. There is no telling what he might have said under the pressure of cross-examination.

It was the only sensible thing for the defense to do, even if it leaves the jury cold. And, given the law of averages, it was about time for the defense to come up with something sensible. There have been a couple of good moments, but only a couple. They were due.

Their character witnesses have been fine, but just because you can put a young man on the stand who says he wasn't sexually assaulted by Sandusky does not explain what happened to the 10 alleged victims in this case. The notion that investigators coached accusers to embellish their stories was their best shot, and one character witness, a 21-year-old, did say Wednesday, "I felt like, when they kept asking me, they wanted me to say something that wasn't true."

Still, he did acknowledge that no investigators put words in his mouth. It was like that with the entire defense presentation. The "however" always seemed to be worse than the points they attempted to make.

For instance, the psychological pillar of their defense crumbled when their own expert was forced to admit on the stand that Sandusky was found to be lying on the psychological testing that was performed, trying to make himself look better than he was. Then, on Wednesday, there was the testimony of Dr. Jonathan Dranov, the family friend who heard former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary's story of witnessing Sandusky's assault of a young boy in a locker-room shower in 2001.

The defense's point was to have Dranov, who was called that night by McQueary's father, admit that McQueary never described seeing a sexual act. Dranov said, "He heard what he described as sexual sounds. I asked what he meant. ‘Mike, what do you mean?'

“ ... He couldn't go on. He just seemed to get a little bit more upset," Dranov said.

Dranov did acknowledge that McQueary was unable to describe a sexual act three times in the course of their conversation. He said, "Did he give me any kind of graphic description? No."

Dranov said: "I didn't use the term, ‘Did you see a sexual act?' I kept asking, ‘What did you see?' He kept coming back to the sounds."

If the point was to raise doubt about whether McQueary actually saw a rape taking place, that was fine. McQueary himself has testified that he heard the sounds, and saw Sandusky pressed up against the boy from behind, but he did not see penetration. When you add in that Dranov said the details of where McQueary placed the bodies in the shower were different from what McQueary testified last week, this was always going to be a difficult charge to prove.

But here is the "however." Dranov painted a picture of McQueary — the tall, redheaded former quarterback with a commanding presence — that the jury is not likely to forget.

He described McQueary's father as "concerned and upset" on the phone. He described McQueary as "visibly shaken and upset."

And then, Dranov said, "If I could describe it, his voice was trembling and his hands were shaking. He was visibly shaken."

Shocking to see him that way?

"Yes, it was," Dranov said.

At the end of it, you wondered why the defense had bothered to call him.

They could not afford to take that chance with Jerry Sandusky himself, though. It is why, after everything, he was silent.


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

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