On their first day of arguments, the ex-coach’s lawyers put on a lackluster show. Diane Dimond reports.
In his opening statement last week, Jerry Sandusky’s defense attorney, Joe Amendola, told the jury, “I’ve never seen a case like this in my life. We could just pack it in now and say, ‘Gee whiz, we don’t have a chance!'” In a more serious tone, he added, “This is like David and Goliath.”
After this first day of the defense’s case, many in the room shared the opinion that that it had been a lackluster performance. Goliath was winning.
The defense team called a total of six witnesses, trying to counteract an avalanche of eyewitness and accuser testimony presented last week—much of it powerful testimony that painted Sandusky, a former Penn State University football coach, as a manipulative and sometimes violent serial pedophile.
The first to take the witness stand for the defense was Richard Anderson, a retired Penn State football coach who worked alongside his “close friend” Sandusky for decades.
“Jerry had a great reputation,” the dapper-looking Anderson told the jury. “I don’t know anyone who had a bad thing to say about him.”
Amendola walked the witness through the considerable number of duties of a Penn State football coach—from on-campus practices to out-of-state recruiting, speeches, and banquet appearances—clearly seeking to leave the impression that Sandusky wouldn’t have had time to groom and molest young boys.
“Did you know of any coach who had time to play racquetball and football in the afternoons?” Amendola asked the veteran coach, who just retired from Penn State in January.
“No,” Anderson answered. “Jerry did a lot of travel for clinics, speaking engagements, and Second Mile [charity] events,” he said.
On cross-examination, the other Joe in the room—Prosecutor Joe McGettingan— asked the witness: “Do you recall being interviewed by the state police?
“Yes,” Anderson said cautiously.
“Do you remember telling them you had heard rumors about Mr. Sandusky?” There was an objection and the judge shut down that line of questioning.
McGettigan shifted his tactic. “Have you ever taken showers with a young boy?” McGettigan asked, at the beginning of what would be a rapid-fire line of questioning.
“Yes, all the time,” said the former coach. “I still do it at the YMCA.”
“You hug them in the shower?” the prosecutor asked.
“No,” Anderson said crisply.
“Do you bring the boys in the shower?” McGettingan asked.
“No, they’re already there.”
“You ever see Mr. Sandusky bring boys to the shower?”
“Yes,” Anderson replied.
“Have you ever been prohibited from bringing young boys on to the Penn State campus?” the prosecutor pressed. (The jury had previously heard testimony that the retired Sandusky had been ordered to stop bringing boys to the campus.)
The jury listened intently to the prosecutor, and as the prosecutor pressed, he made his points.
The defense team’s second witness appeared in a wheelchair. Thirty-year-old Clint Mettlar told the jury he was a 10-year Army veteran who had served in Germany, Baghdad, and Afghanistan. He had attended Sandusky’s Second Mile summer camp for disadvantaged boys until he “aged out,” he said, and he had stayed at the Sandusky home overnight several times. He had nothing but good things to say about the defendant’s reputation and character.
During a break, I approached the defense table to ask whether it would be correct to describe Mettlar as a wounded-in-action veteran, since he hadn’t been asked about his injury during his testimony. Assistant defense Aattorney Karl Rominger said he didn’t know, but turned to his client to ask. Much to my surprise, Jerry Sandusky began to speak to me directly.
“Yes,” Sandusky said, nodding his head in an animated fashion, his eyebrows raised for emphasis. “He got his leg blown off in the war. Then, when he came home to State College, he was riding a motorcycle and got hit by a car. Now, he is paralyzed from the waist down.” We exchanged sad smiles about his friend’s fate.
Then There was former Penn State football coach Booker T. Brooks, who said he’d known Sandusky since 1968, when he first arrived at the school. Together, he said, they had worked under the legendary Joe Paterno. Like the first two witnesses, Brooks had only good things to say about his longtime friend, Jerry. He called his character “exemplary” and “top notch.” But he hadn’t worked with Sandusky since 1983, when he left for a coaching job at Oregon State University.
Curiously, when Brooks was asked about showering with young kids after exercising, he also admitted that he had done so. Brooks shocked many in the courtroom when he described how he took his young grandchild into the locker room with him and that “I help her get dressed because she’s too young to do it herself.” The mental vision of an almost 70-year-old man taking a young granddaughter into a men’s locker room to shower and dress struck many court observers as inappropriate behavior.
One other defense witness of note was David Pasquinelli, a former fundraiser for the Second Mile. Now, a political consultant, Pasquinelli said he got involved with Sandusky’s charity in 2007 because he’s “Always been a sucker for good causes …[and]…I did it on the basis of Jerry’s reputation in the community. Jerry was a local hero.”
Asked if he could characterize Sandusky’s interactions with young kids, Pasquinelli said, “I saw a mutual admiration of boys and girls. I saw a lot of goofing around. Many of us were inspired about this…how he could relate to these kids.”
At the beginning of the court day, the prosecution had called its final witness to the stand. She was dressed in a long brown skirt and sleeveless patterned blouse adorned with a simple silver necklace. The Daily Beast is not naming the alleged victims or their family members. but the woman identified herself as the mother of the last accuser to take the stand. She, like her son, is tiny in stature and displayed a nervous demeanor, seeming near tears from the get-go. Throughout her testimony, she repeatedly put a slender hand to her chest and took in gulps of air to fortify herself.
In an embarrassed tone, this 40-something mother admitted she had encouraged her son’s one-on-one contact with Jerry Sandusky after meeting the coach at her son’s Second Mile summer camp in 2005. As a single mother who worked two jobs to pay the bills, she told the court it was welcome attention for a boy who needed a father figure.
“I thought it was great. He was a very important person; he was in charge of the camp,” she said, her voice wavering. The first time Sandusky took her son, the 12- year-old spent the weekend at the coach’s home, she told the jury. And prodded by McGettigan, the witness recounted the gifts of clothes and sports equipment Sandusky gave her young son.
“I just wish he would have gave him [sic] some underwear to replace the underwear that I could never find in my laundry,” she said as tears flowed and she pressed multiple tissues to her face. She later explained that when she asked her son about the lack of underwear in the wash, he told her only that he’d “had an accident and threw them out.”
After the boy began to spend alone time with Sandusky, the witness said, he developed stomach and bowel trouble. (This witness’s son testified to screaming out in the Sandusky basement during anal penetration and experiencing bleeding after the alleged attack.)
“Do you know to this day exactly what happened to your son?” McGettigan asked.
Her face reddened—just as her son’s had when he cried on the stand last week—and she let out a sob as she shook her head.
“No, I don’t,” she sobbed again. “I just can’t imagine…”
“Do you feel responsible? McGettigan asked.
“Yes I do!” she said in a firm voice as tears streamed down her face.
“Did you ever ask [your son] what happened to him?”
“No I didn’t….” and this mother literally choked out the next words. “Because I didn’t really want to hear what happened. It’s not that I didn’t want to know what happened. I just knew it would be tough for him to tell me.”
After a private sidebar at the bench and at the end of the shortened day of testimony, Judge John Cleland turned to the jury and gave them a tentative blueprint for the rest of the trial. He said he expects both the defense and the prosecution’s rebuttal case will wrap up by Wednesday afternoon, and that final arguments will be presented on Thursday. Later that day, Judge Cleland warned the panel that they will be sequestered when they begin deliberations. He counseled them to start packing a suitcase and to prepare to be away from home.
This agreed-to timetable seems to indicate neither Sandusky nor his wife will take the witness stand. As accuser No. 5’s attorney, Tom Kline told me, “No prosecutor in their right mind would agree to end after half a day on Wednesday if he thought either Sandusky was going to testify. That kind of testimony could take days and days.”