POSTED: 10:09 a.m. HST, Jun 23, 2012
BELLEFONTE, Pa. >> The credibility of the accusers who testified at the trial of Jerry Sandusky solidified the case against him, a juror said today, a day after the retired Penn State coach once viewed as the successor to Joe Paterno was found guilty on 45 counts of child sex abuse.
“It’s hard to judge character on the stand because you don’t know these kids,” Joshua Harper told NBC’s “Today.” “But most were very credible — I would say all.”
“It was very convincing,” he added.
After a swift trial and less than two days of deliberations, Sandusky was found guilty Friday. Mandatory minimums mean he will likely die in prison.
Sanduksy’s own impassivity as the verdict was read was also a confirmation that the jury’s decision was the right one, Harper said.
“I looked at him during the reading of the verdict and just the look on his face. No real emotion,” he said.
Sandusky appeared to be accepting his fate, Harper said, “because he knew it was true.”
The verdict is not the end of the scandal that took down Paterno and deeply shook the state’s most prominent university. It will play out for years in courtrooms and through a set of ongoing investigations.
But the trial did present one piece of finality: Sandusky was taken away in handcuffs to the county jail. Sentencing will be in about three months.
“One of the recurring themes in this case was, ‘Who would believe a kid?”’ Attorney General Linda Kelly said. “The answer is, we in Bellefonte, Pa., would believe a kid.”
Sandusky, a retired defensive coach, showed little emotion as the verdict was read, giving his wife, Dottie, and family members a half-wave as the county sheriff led him away.
There were only three acquittals among the charges related to 10 victims, eight of whom took the stand to describe fondling, forced oral sex and anal rape. Many of the accusers testified that they had told no one of the abuse that dated as far back as the mid-1990s — not parents, not girlfriends and not police.
The accuser known in court papers as Victim 6, whose mother alerted authorities in 1998 after Sandusky took her son into a shower, broke down in tears upon hearing the verdicts in the courtroom. Afterward, a prosecutor embraced him and said, “Did I ever lie to you?”
The man, now 25, testified that Sandusky called himself the “tickle monster” in a shower assault. He declined to comment to a reporter afterward. His mother said: “Nobody wins. We’ve all lost.”
One of the three counts for which Sandusky was acquitted concerned Victim 6, an indecent assault charge. The man testified that Sandusky had given him a bear hug in the shower but at one point he just “blacked out.”
The other acquittals were an indecent assault charge related to Victim 5, who said Sandusky fondled him in the shower, and an involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charge regarding Victim 2, the boy graduate assistant Mike McQueary saw being attacked in a campus shower.
That charge resulted in an acquittal because McQueary did not see penetration, Harper said. But, Harper said, McQueary made it apparent he saw something “that was wrong and extremely sexual.”
“We did not have the evidence that that very first charge happened,” Harper said. “... And we were in agreement amongst all the jurors that because of that, we could not convict him of that first count.”
Almost immediately after the judge adjourned, loud cheers could be heard from a couple hundred people gathered outside the courthouse as word quickly spread that Sandusky had been convicted. The crowd included victim advocates and local residents with their kids. Many held up their smartphones to take pictures as people filtered out of the building.
As Sandusky was placed in the cruiser to be taken to jail, someone yelled at him to “rot in hell!” Others hurled insults and he shook his head no in response.
Defense attorney Joe Amendola was interrupted by cheers from the crowd on the courthouse steps when he said, “The sentence that Jerry will receive will be a life sentence.”
In addition to the eight who testified, there were two yet-unidentified victims for whom prosecutors relied on testimony from a university janitor and McQueary, whose account of a sexual encounter between Sandusky and a boy of about 10 years old ultimately led to the Paterno’s dismissal and the university president’s ouster.
Sandusky did not take the stand in his own defense.
After the verdict was announced, defense attorney Karl Rominger said it was “a tough case” with a lot of charges and that an appeal was certain. He said the defense team “didn’t exactly have a lot of time to prepare.”
The ex-coach had repeatedly denied the allegations, and his defense suggested that his accusers had a financial motive to make up stories, years after the fact. His attorneys also painted Sandusky as the victim of overzealous police investigators who coached the alleged victims into giving accusatory statements.
One accuser testified that Sandusky molested him in the locker-room showers and in hotels while trying to ensure his silence with gifts and trips to bowl games. He also said Sandusky had sent him “creepy love letters.”
Another spoke of forced oral sex and instances of rape in the basement of Sandusky’s home, including abuse that left him bleeding. He said he once tried to scream for help, knowing that Sandusky’s wife was upstairs, but figured the basement must be soundproof.
Another, a foster child, said Sandusky warned that he would never see his family again if he ever told anyone what happened.
And just hours after the case went to jurors, lawyers for one of Sandusky’s six children, Matt, said he had told authorities that his father abused him.
Matt Sandusky had been prepared to testify on behalf of prosecutors, his lawyers said in a statement. The lawyers said they arranged for Matt Sandusky to meet with law enforcement officials but did not explain why he didn’t testify.
“This has been an extremely painful experience for Matt and he has asked us to convey his request that the media respect his privacy,” the statement said. It didn’t go into details about his allegations.
Defense witnesses, including Dottie Sandusky, described Sandusky’s philanthropic work with children over the years, and many spoke in positive terms about his reputation in the community. Prosecutors had portrayed those efforts as an effective means by which Sandusky could camouflage his molestation as he targeted boys who were the same age as participants in The Second Mile, a charity he founded in the 1970s for at-risk youth.
Sandusky’s arrest in November led the Penn State trustees to fire Paterno as head coach, saying he exhibited a lack of leadership after fielding a report from McQueary. The scandal also led to the ouster of university President Graham Spanier and criminal charges against two university administrators for failing to properly report suspected child abuse and perjury.
The two administrators, athletic director Tim Curley and now-retired vice president Gary Schultz, are fighting the allegations and await trial.
The family of Paterno, who died exactly five months before Sandusky’s conviction, released a statement saying: “Although we understand the task of healing is just beginning, today’s verdict is an important milestone. The community owes a measure of gratitude to the jurors for their diligent service. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims and their families.”
In a statement, Penn State praised the accusers who testified and said that it planned to invite the victims of Sandusky’s abuse to participate in a private program to address their concerns and compensate them for claims related to the school.
Sandusky had initially faced 52 counts of sex abuse. Prosecutors dropped one count and the judge tossed three others during the trial, on grounds two were unproven, one was brought under a statute that didn’t apply and another was duplicative.