As the ex-coach begins a 30- to 60-year sentence, one of his lawyers tells Diane Dimond his strategy for getting a new trial—that the defense didn’t have enough time to prepare their case.
Those close to Jerry Sandusky say about the only thing keeping him going these days is his fervent hope and belief that he will win the right to a new trial.
His attorneys, lead lawyer Joe Amendola and second chair Karl Rominger, believe they may have an ace up their sleeve, The Daily Beast has learned.
A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling—the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Paul Aaron Ross—must feel like manna from heaven for the beleaguered Sandusky team. The decision, filed one day after the former Penn State football coach’s sentencing, grants a new trial to a man convicted of murder, assault, and deviate sexual intercourse. The reason, according to the court’s decision? “The trial court manifestly abused its discretion in refusing to grant Ross a continuance” to permit his lawyer adequate time to prepare for trial.
“It’s dead on for Sandusky’s appeal,” Rominger said in a telephone interview, adding that Team Sandusky is optimistic their client will win the right to a new trial. The lawyers will have to hustle, however, as they only have until Oct. 19 to file a request for appeal.
From the get-go, the Sandusky defense team has complained that they were not given enough time to prepare for the sensational child-sex-abuse trial. Sandusky was arrested in November 2011; the trial began seven months later, in June 2012, after Judge John Cleland refused to grant the defense team extra prep time.
“We were only getting discovery [from the prosecution] for the last four months,” Rominger said. “So the first three months didn’t really count.”
There is a court record to back up their contention. On the day jury selection began—June 5, 2012—transcripts from a closed-door meeting with the parties show Amendola practically begging the judge for more time to prepare. Their key witness, Dottie Sandusky, had scheduling issues with the grand jury. Their jury consultant was stuck in Puerto Rico.
“I feel that we’re duty-bound ethically to tell the court we’re not prepared to go to trial at this time,” Amendola said at the time. “Our experts still haven’t received all the materials … I mean, quite frankly, we haven’t even prepared subpoenas. We’re in the process of trying to do all of this while we’re picking a jury. My staff is ready to quit.” In desperation, the defense filed a sealed motion to remove themselves from the case. As expected, it was denied and within minutes they were in court choosing a jury.
News of the superior court’s ruling in the Ross case will likely give Sandusky even more hope, however unfounded, as he traverses the Pennsylvania penal system and is assigned a permanent location where he will begin to serve out his mandatory 30- to 60-year prison term.
More evidence of Sandusky’s current mindset comes from pre-sentencing letters written by both the former coach and his wife of 46 years, Dottie. The letters were addressed to Judge Cleland in the hopes that he might consider their version of events in deciding Sandusky’s final prison term. They were not read aloud in court.
Mr. Sandusky’s missive is dated September 27, 2012, just a few days before the sentencing hearing.
“My heart has been broken but still works. In my heart I know I did not do these disgusting acts. However, I didn’t tell the jury,” Sandusky wrote. Then, he explained why he hadn’t testified in his own defense. The prosecution had let the defense know that if Sandusky took the stand they would call Matt Sandusky as a rebuttal witness. Matt, 33, was poised to tell the jury that he too had been molested as a child by his adoptive father.
“Our son changed our plans when he switched sides.” Sandusky wrote to the judge. “I was supposed to be David but failed to pick up the sling shot. Goliath won, and I must deal with the outcome. Just like preparing for an athletic contest, I am trying to prepare for what comes. The battle will continue for me.” Sandusky also wrote of the conspiracy he felt had brought him down. “There were so many people involved in the orchestration of this conviction,” Sandusky maintained. “Media, investigators, prosecutors, ‘the system,’ Penn State and the accusers. It was well done. They won!”
Veteran New York sex-crimes prosecutor Trish Gunning has been following the Sandusky saga. She says Sandusky is exhibiting typical behavior of a pedophile in attacking his victims.
“Jerry Sandusky had the opportunity to explain himself at trial and, as is his right, chose not to,” Gunning told The Daily Beast. “Rather, than subject himself to cross-examination, he now chooses to make bold and emotionally abusive statements about his victims. Make no mistake, even now he’s continuing to abuse and attempt to control them.”
In Dottie Sandusky’s letter to the judge, dated July 9, she staunchly defends her husband against the charges that he sexually assaulted at least 10 boys over the course of many years. She wrote, “I never saw him doing anything inappropriate to any child. If I had, as mother and grandmother I would have taken action. Jerry is not the monster everyone is making him out to be.”
After four-and-a-half decades of marriage the two Sanduskys use the same words and phrases and likely buttress what the other is thinking.
“I use [sic] to believe in our protective system,” Dottie’s letter continued. “But now have no faith in the police or legal system. To think that they can lie and get by with the lies. The press has been unbelievable. People who have not met us are writing untruths.”
Unlike her husband, Mrs. Sandusky doesn’t just mention their estranged son, Matt. She throws him under the bus. “As far as our son Matt goes, people need to know what kind of person he is. We have forgiven him many times for all he has done to our family thinking that he was changing his life, but he would always go back to his stealing and lies.” Dottie Sandusky also claimed Matt has bona fide mental problems. “He has been diagnose [sic] with bipolar, but he refuses to take his medicine,” she wrote. “He has had many run-ins with the law and stolen money and items from our family. We still love him and want the best for him, but because of his actions we cannot express this to him.”
Like her husband, Dottie Sandusky takes the stance that everyone—from the young victims and prosecutors to police and members of her own family—is lying. Only she and Jerry are telling the truth.
Meanwhile, Amendola, Sandusky’s lead lawyer, had long told reporters he would not be handling any appeal, but obviously he has changed his mind. Amendola declined to comment for this article, nor has he addressed the widespread speculation that it was he who tape recorded Jerry Sandusky in jail just hours before this week’s sentencing and handed the tape to a small Penn State radio station.
Hours before the surprise broadcast, Judge Cleland had ordered attorneys to tell Sandusky that he would not be allowed to criticize either the victims or the system during his sentencing statement to the court. On the tape, that’s exactly what Sandusky did. During the three-minute broadcast, Sandusky vilified his young accusers, calling them untruthful, dramatic, and attention seekers. “The accusers were products of many more people and experiences than me,” Sandusky told the listening audience. “Look at their confidants and their honesty. Think about how easy it was for them to turn on me.”
(That Penn State Radio would agree to play such a tape from a man who has done such harm to the institution has been questioned. There’s no doubt, however, that it was a newsworthy audiotape and a coup for the tiny radio station.)
“The guys who never admit and continue to deny responsibility are the scariest,” said Gunning, the New York prosecutor. “The research in this area is clear: They are not treatable and these offenders pose the greatest risk to the public.”
Rominger tells The Daily Beast their next step will be to approach Judge Cleland—“a strict legalist” as Team Sandusky calls him—and draw his attention to the new Ross ruling from Pennsylvania’s superior court. If he doesn’t automatically grant a new trial they will then go over his head and petition the superior court—the same court that just ruled lawyers must be given adequate time to prepare their defense.
Team Sandusky has their fingers crossed.