Defense strategy in Sandusky case was to tear down accusers, families, cops
Character witnesses portrayed former Penn State coach as role model, do-gooder
Defense calls 16-minute tape between accuser's attorney and investigator a smoking gun
For the first week of Jerry Sandusky’s child sex trial, eight young men held jurors spellbound with testimony about a sports hero they say groped them in the car, soaped them in the shower and sexually assaulted them on a basement waterbed.
How do you come back from something like that?
Sandusky’s defense attorneys, Joe Amendola and Karl Rominger, responded this week with rapid-fire rounds of testimony; 29 witnesses took the stand in little more than two days – including 11 character witnesses in a single hour. The defense also chipped away at the character and motives of the alleged victims, sparing no one: not the young accusers, not their families and certainly not the cops.
The defense rested shortly before noon Wednesday without calling Sandusky as a witness. The prosecution had no further rebuttal. The jurors were dismissed and told to return Thursday morning for closing arguments. They also were advised to pack suitcases, because they will be sequestered at a hotel during deliberations.
Many defense witnesses – including Dottie, his wife of 46 years – painted Sandusky in glowing terms befitting a saint. Others questioned the motives of his accusers, particularly the ones known as Alleged Victim Nos. 1, 4 and 9. Two mental health experts, one for the defense and one for the prosecution, seemed to cancel each other out.
Sandusky’s character witnesses included more than a dozen old friends, former colleagues, fellow church members, ex-players and boys and girls he counseled through his nonprofit for at-risk kids, the Second Mile. They portrayed him as a football legend, role model and selfless do-gooder with a sterling reputation. For Sandusky, it was like homecoming weekend in the courtroom as he chatted, smiled and shook hands with people he has known for decades.
They included Lance Mehl, an All-America linebacker at Penn State who went on to play for the New York Jets and works now as a probation officer in Ohio. His testimony was typical: “We all looked up to him,” Mehl testified in a booming voice. “He is a class act.”
Sandusky, retired defensive coordinator for Penn State’s storied football team, is charged with 51 counts of molesting 10 boys over 15 years. He denies the charges, and his lawyers have suggested that overzealous police and prosecutors targeted him in a trumped-up case. They have compared him to David, fighting Goliath.
The defense called psychologist Elliott Atkins to testify about what No. 4 called “creepy love letters” he received from Sandusky. Atkins characterized the letters as symptomatic of a mental condition called histrionic personality disorder. He said he diagnosed Sandusky with the disorder after giving him two personality tests, interviewing him for six hours and reviewing the letters and other evidence.
But a prosecution psychiatrist, Dr. John Sebastian O’Brien II, saw no evidence of any personality disorder in the test results. If anything, he added, there might be some indication of a “psychosexual disorder.” But he said further information would be needed for a diagnosis.
Defense attorneys played what they say is a smoking gun audiotape: 16 minutes of inadvertently recorded conversation in which a state trooper, Cpl. Joseph Leiter, casually discusses with attorney Ben Andreozzi how best to get the cooperation of the young man who would become known as Alleged Victim No. 4.
Leiter had denied advising No. 4 about what other victims were saying; the tape contradicted his testimony.
The witness was so terrified to talk with police that he curled in the fetal position on his sofa the first time officers knocked on his door, according to testimony. He hired Andreozzi, who specializes in representing crime victims and advertises extensively.
No. 4 was taking a cigarette break outside when Andreozzi suggested to the trooper that it might help to let him know others were talking. The tape was left rolling inadvertently, and it captured everything.
“Oh, you’re kidding, the time frame matches up?” Andreozzi can be heard saying. “Can we at some point say, ‘Listen, we have interviewed other kids. … Other kids have admitted there was intercourse. Is there anything else you want to tell us?’ “
Leiter responded that such a tactic was not unusual.
“Yes, we do that with all the other kids,” he said on the tape. “This is what we found; this is how he operates. … This has happened, and that has happened.”
No. 4 returned to the room and was given a Sierra Mist. The popping and fizzing of soda cans being opened can be heard as Leiter addresses his reluctant witness:
“You’re not the first,” the trooper said. “I’ve interviewed probably nine kids, nine other adults. … If this was a book, you’d be repeating word for word what other people told us. And we know from these other young adults who talked to us that there is a pretty well-defined progression that he operated and still operates to some degree.”
The defense contends that No. 4’s statement was “tainted” by suggestions about what the accuser should say.
“You mentioned rape, oral sex and other activities you got from other accusers, right?” attorney Rominger asked the trooper when he took the witness stand.
“Yes,” Leiter responded.
Almost as a bonus for the defense, Leiter and another former trooper contradicted each other on what they had discussed during a court break minutes earlier. Leiter acknowledged that they talked about his testimony; the other trooper denied it.
Only one of them can be right.
The defense attack on No. 4 continued with the testimony of a childhood friend who said he had a reputation for being “a dishonest person who embellished stories.”
There was no love lost with Dottie Sandusky, either. Asked about No. 4, she said, “He had his problems. He was very demanding, and he was very conniving, and he wanted his own way. He didn’t listen a lot.”
She found the boy known as No. 1 to be “very clingy to Jerry” and said he once ran across the room and jumped in her husband’s lap. Another time, at a wrestling meet, he hugged her husband. “He would never look anybody in they eye,” she added.
The defense also chipped away at the credibility and motives of No. 1 and his family by calling his mother and a former neighbor to the stand. The mother denied saying the case would make her wealthy, but the neighbor, Josh Frevel, testified that after her son claimed he had been sexually abused by Sandusky, she said, “I’ll own his house.”
He added, “She said, ‘When this settles out, she’ll have a nice big house in the country, with a fence, and the dogs can run free.’ ”
As for her son, Fravel quoted him as saying, “When this is over, I’ll have a nice new Jeep.”
Dottie Sandusky had little to say about the other accusers, except for No. 9, whom she recalled as “a charmer,” adding, “He knew what to say and when to say it.”
She said she never witnessed any inappropriate contact between her husband and boys from the Second Mile. She said some slept in an upstairs bedroom at their home during sleepovers, some slept in a first-floor room, and others slept in the basement.
She said she never went down there but added that her husband would go to the basement to say good night to his guests. Although the basement was not soundproof, she said, she never heard a thing.
“I just know he went and told them good night.”
Asked by prosecutor Joseph E. McGettigan III what would motivate eight young men to make up lies about her husband, she responded, “I … I … I don’t know.”