Attorney: Sandusky to appeal child sex abuse convictions

Story highlights

  • Jerry Sandusky will claim he had ineffective counsel, an attorney says
  • The defense attorneys say they asked to withdraw before the trial began
  • A jury convicted Sandusky on 45 counts relating to child sexual abuse
  • He will be sentenced in about 90 days, attorneys say
Former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky will appeal his convictions on numerous counts of child sexual abuse, a member of his defense team says.
After a trial that featured emotional and often graphic testimony from eight of Sandusky's victims, jurors late Friday convicted him of 45 of the 48 sexual abuse counts he faced, involving a total of 10 victims.
The eight victims who testified, now young men, said that they were boys when Sandusky forced them to engage in sexual acts with him. The acts occurred, they said, in showers in Penn State's athletic facilities; hotel rooms; and the basement of Sandusky's home, among other places. The abuse spanned more than 15 years.
After being found guilty, Sandusky, 68, was taken immediately to the jail in Centre County, Pennsylvania. Judge John Cleland said Friday he will be sentenced in about 90 days. He likely will be sentenced to serve the rest of his life behind bars.
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Sandusky's defense team plans to file a motion for appeal, claiming he had ineffective counsel, defense attorney Karl Rominger said Sunday. Under Pennsylvania law, that motion cannot be filed until after sentencing.
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If Cleland agrees to a hearing on the motion, lead defense attorney Joe Amendola would step aside and appear as a witness, the attorney said. Rominger said either he or another attorney would argue the motion.
The appellate claim will be based on Amendola's "talking to the media," Rominger said. And a linchpin of the appeal will be prosecutor Joe McGettigan's statements during his closing argument, when he told jurors that Sandusky could have proclaimed his innocence during an interview with NBC's Bob Costas. That violates Sandusky's right to post-arrest trial silence, Rominger said.
Rominger said he will ask Cleland to sentence Sandusky to serve concurrent sentences, with the maximum being 20 years. At the very least, he said, he hopes to get Cleland to acknowledge the good works Sandusky has done in his life.
Sandusky has a right to speak during sentencing, something Rominger said will be discussed in the coming weeks.
Rominger said on Saturday that he and Amendola attempted to withdraw from the case before the trial, telling Cleland the day before jury selection began that they did not feel adequately prepared and that it would be "unethical" for them to move forward. Cleland denied their request, he said. Rominger said he did not mention the issue earlier because a gag order was in place.
If Cleland denies the appeal motion, it would be likely to become part of a broader appeal, Rominger said. Ineffective counsel is a common appeal tactic, but a broader appeal may cite other reasons as well.
"If you win on one of the appeal issues, everything probably falls," Amendola said last week. "All we have to do is convince an appellate court that one of the issues we will raise is worthy of a reversal."
Rominger earlier pointed to "a lot of unique legal issues where (Cleland) made rulings that could be overturned -- not because they were, per se, wrong, but because the law in the area was so unclear."
Asked about the appeal Monday, Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the Pennsylvania attorney general's office, said, "We're not going to fight the appellate process with press releases. We're confident that everything in the trial was handled appropriately."
Rominger acknowledged Sunday an appeal may present a tough challenge, as attorneys would have to prove they have significant evidence that could have altered the trial's outcome.
And Cleland could easily rule that evidence presented at trial was so overwhelming -- the victims' testimony, for instance -- that it would not have changed the end result, Rominger said.
Despite widespread speculation, Sandusky did not take the stand in his own defense. Amendola said after the verdict that decision was made because Sandusky's adopted son, Matt, was prepared to testify as a rebuttal witness that he, too, was sexually abused by Sandusky.
As of Saturday, Sandusky was on what is commonly called suicide watch, Rominger said. That was not an indication that Sandusky is suicidal, he added, but Cleland and the jail warden just wanted "to put the precautions in place first and then evaluate later."
The former coach will be classified at Pennsylvania's Camp Hill diagnostic facility before he is likely sent to a sex offender unit in the state prison system, Rominger said. If he is sentenced to more than two years, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections would determine the prison where he would serve his time.
Beyond the appeals process, Sandusky could face more charges, perhaps tied to claims made by his adopted son or related to alleged sexual abuse that took place outside Centre County -- including in hotel rooms in Texas and Florida, where some accusers say they accompanied him to Penn State bowl games.
The university itself also still faces fallout from the case, which shook Penn State and raised questions about its response to the abuse allegations. Two former administrators -- Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley -- are awaiting trial on charges of perjury and failing to report abuse. Prosecutors said the two did not notify police after former graduate student and football assistant Mike McQueary told them he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy in a Penn State shower in 2001.
Authorities didn't learn about McQueary's account until years later. It led to the ouster of iconic head football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier. Paterno died shortly afterward of lung cancer.
In addition to the testimony from McQueary and a former janitor at Penn State, several victims said they were repeatedly molested on university property.
In a statement released Friday night after the verdict, the school signaled it wants to seek resolution -- hinting that might include a financial settlement -- with the victims.
"The university wants to provide a forum where the university can privately, expeditiously and fairly address the victims' concerns and compensate them for claims relating to the university," the statement said.