Phil Sheridan: Jerry Sandusky sentence late in coming

Posted: October 10, 2012

The only sentence that would have felt right was impossible: to go back in time somehow and put Jerry Sandusky away the very first time he molested a child.

Once you accept that, it really didn't matter whether Judge John Cleland delivered a sentence of 30 years or 300 years for the 68-year-old rapist. It matters only that Sandusky dies in prison and never has access to another child. Cleland's sentence - 30 to 60 years - accomplishes that. It was a pragmatic ruling on an emotional issue, a sentence crafted for the minds of a possible appeals court rather than the hearts of the angry masses.

Maybe the most shocking aspect of Tuesday's events was the finality.

Less than one year ago, Joe Paterno was the head coach at Penn State. Sandusky was a welcome guest in a luxury box at Beaver Stadium for the school's homecoming game. Everybody was living in real or willful ignorance of the monstrous reality, that Sandusky had turned the football facilities into his personal torture chambers for a series of innocent young boys.

Now the price has mostly been determined: Paterno is dead, his reputation destroyed. Penn State football will be hobbled for years by fines, loss of scholarships, and postseason bans. The inner circle of university administrators has been disgraced, dismissed, and, in two cases, indicted. Virtually all of the coaching staff has been released.

And Jerry Sandusky will die in prison.

There is some unfinished business, of course. The victims of Sandusky will never be finished with it. There will and should be enormous civil suits against and settlements by Penn State. Criminal trials are looming for a former university administrator (Gary Schultz) and a suspended one (Tim Curley), with charges still possible against former president Graham B. Spanier. There will continue to be fair questions about how Gov. Corbett handled this case while he was state attorney general, and that check could come due at reelection time.

And there is the astonishing lawsuit filed against Penn State by Mike McQueary, the former assistant coach who testified he saw Sandusky molesting a child in the shower of the Lasch Football Building. McQueary is trying to position himself as a heroic whistleblower, fired for bravely telling the truth. In reality, he was the one person we know had a chance to stop Sandusky, physically and definitively, from a crime.

Then, after telling Paterno, McQueary was part of the conspiracy of silence that allowed Sandusky to victimize unknown others. He accepted a promotion, remained on the coaching staff, and kept his mouth shut until, finally, called before a grand jury.

If he is rewarded with millions of dollars for that, that will be just one more perversion of justice in this tragic case.

Because the other thing we learned over the last few months is that Sandusky does not present as some kind of cunning master manipulator. From his interview with NBC's Bob Costas in the spring to his despicable comments Monday and Tuesday, Sandusky comes across as a pathetic, delusional creep. He looks and sounds exactly like what you'd expect a serial pedophile to look and sound like.

This guy had everyone at Penn State fooled for years and years and years? When he was brazenly parading these kids around the shower rooms, practice fields, and road hotels?

It just doesn't compute.

But Tuesday was not about the atmosphere in which Sandusky thrived. It was, finally, about the man's own accountability for his egregious actions.

One thing is certain. Sandusky didn't say or do a single thing to make us question his guilt or our own disgust. He victimized these kids by luring them in and molesting them. He victimized them by forcing them to testify in open court even though it was obvious to anyone with half a brain that the state's case was rock solid. He victimized them by recording a statement accusing them of lying and releasing it to a Penn State student media outlet Monday. Then he victimized them one last time with his rambling, self-pitying statement in court before being sentenced.

This one man leaves so much wreckage in his wake. On the largest scale, there is the reputation of an entire university, including its iconic football coach. But it is on the smaller scale, in the private, personal torment inflected on these young men, that the most harrowing damage was done.

For all the turmoil and NCAA sanctions, Penn State will be able to move on. For the victims, it will never be that clean.

It is for them that Sandusky must die in prison. And while a 400-year sentence would have sounded and felt better in the hearts of an angry public, this sentence is adequate.

Jerry Sandusky will never hurt another child. The sad truth is that we couldn't say this in 1998.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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