Fourth of five parts.
The Jerry Sandusky prosecution team was in urgent need of a confirming corps of victims to strengthen its case.
After a seemingly exhaustive, fruitless campaign in 2010 that only weakened the prosecutors’ hopes, they received a photo of Sandusky surrounded by nine boys, including the boy from a 1998 episode and three of his friends.
Those nine boys became the objects of a revived effort to broaden the base of witnesses to substantiate Sandusky’s guilt. By late 2011, five more young men had been added to the roster of those willing to name their mentor an abuser.
Acclaimed science writer Mark Pendergrast’s 2017 work “The Most Hated Man in America” provides a thorough review of the Sandusky case, and the bulk of information in this five-day column series is based on Pendergrast’s research and published works.
We can observe some truths about the group as a whole, along with specific, individual notes as gleaned from reviews of the case:
Of those five, four initially asserted that Sandusky had never abused them. More than one expressed hope that he would be exonerated soon.
Some were mutual friends who collaborated during the year about their impressions of police interviews, and the possibilities of alternative testimonies.
All five came from troubled pasts before they entered The Second Mile programs and later met Sandusky. Victim 4 (and earlier, Victim 1) had gained reputations among their peers as less than honest.
All five were adults who had no history of complaining about Sandusky as a potential abuser before being solicited by police in 2011.
None had initiated contact with police, or had known claims among family or friends about Sandusky at any point in their lives.
All had substantial conflicts of fact between their initial interviews and their trial testimonies.
Some had retained tort lawyers before their first interviews with police. All had done so before trial, in anticipation of substantial remuneration if a conviction were delivered.
Victim 7 openly acknowledged that repressed memory therapy had induced the core of his testimony.
The youth in the 1998 episode became Victim 6. His claim at trial was that the non-molesting behaviors of 1998 were actually grooming maneuvers. His claim helped bring a conviction.
Victim 5 was the only one to assert molestation from the start of his interview with police. He claimed one episode, but at different stages of testimony shifted the year from 1998 (childhood) to 2002 (teen years).
Victim 4 gave no useful testimony for a full hour of police interview. While he was on a break, the interviewers decided to tell him that up to nine others had already declared Sandusky guilty of molestation, in order to give him incentive to testify likewise. To that point, they had statements from only three, one of whom was Victim 6.
The claim to nine others was not true. This breach of interview protocol, called “co-witness contamination,” was inadvertently recorded on the interview tape, and should have nullified the interview altogether.
But it got the desired result: Victim 4 quickly told sordid tales of repeated sexual indulgence that won him the role of leadoff witness in the trial. He claimed 50 or more incidents of sexual molestation, mostly around 1998. He claimed Sandusky set him up with tobacco and marijuana, and that Sandusky groomed him with three-hour sessions of one-on-one gym games every Friday afternoon of the last half of 1997.
This despite Sandusky’s lifetime commitment to abstinence from tobacco and drugs, and his every-Friday presence with the football team as a coach until late 1999.
Then comes the case of Victim 8, allegedly seen by a Penn State janitor being molested at the hands of Sandusky. The witness at trial was a friend of the eyewitness, who had told him of the disturbing episode, and then became too incapacitated to testify for himself. The hearsay janitor was “sure” the culprit was Sandusky.
Since the trial, a recorded police interview with the eyewitness in May 2011 has surfaced, in which the eyewitness clearly stated that the perpetrator was someone else.
The recording was “lost” in a huge trove of discovery material delivered shortly before the trial. Despite this, and the hearsay status of the trial witness, prosecutors aggressively pursued charges based on the unidentified Victim 8.
Victims 9 and 10 responded to a hotline appeal by the attorney general after the indictments. Victim 9 initially claimed never to have been abused. At trial he claimed to be locked in Sandusky’s basement virtually every weekend across three calendar years, from late childhood into adolescence, as a virtual sex slave.
This despite the one-hour distance from his hometown to Sandusky’s, the necessary decision to assume that role voluntarily across three years without anyone questioning his whereabouts through the period, the frequent use of the basement for family and charity hosting during those years, and the consistent word from all who lived there that the lock was on the basement side of the door.
Victim 10 was a convicted felon who claimed to have been driven in a silver convertible by Sandusky to a place where Sandusky exposed himself and demanded a sex act. His testimony won conviction, despite no one recalling Sandusky’s owning, renting or being seen in a convertible – or even liking convertibles. Victim 10 was the only one that the Sandusky family could not place from anywhere.
After the trial, more than 30 claimants to abuse by Sandusky netted more than $100 million from Penn State’s insurance company, without the requirement that their claims be vetted or cross-examined.
Former Penn State trustees chair Ira Lubert, who oversaw the dispersement of money to the 30 claimants, said in an interview, “They’re not all victims. There’s some that were on the gravy train.”
The news media told the public that “court documents” revealed claims of victims as far back as the 1970s.
Only two specific accounts were actually released for review. Both “John Doe” stories begged credibility.
In one, the victim was assaulted by Sandusky in a group shower at Penn State’s 1976 summer football camp, his shouts of protests ignored by others in the shower and by camp staff, and his direct appeal to Paterno met with indifference.
The cogent factual problem is that those camps sent participants back to their dorm rooms for showers.
In the other case, the claimant alleged to have been picked up as a hitchhiker in 1971 by Sandusky, who “lubricated him up” with liquor and marijuana before raping him in a public facility at Penn State.
The “court document” in these widely-circulated stories turned out to be a formal appeal to the court by Penn State’s then insurance company to be released from responsibility for frivolously-conceived suits.
The John Doe episodes from the ’70s were cited by the company as extreme examples. They nonetheless were widely published as proof that Sandusky had been prowling about Penn State’s environs unchecked for 40 years.
Confronted with this array of accusers, how would one rank them for credibility – individually or in tandem?
Given the many hundreds of episodes claimed, in overlapping time frames and narrow windows of opportunity, what full-time sex trafficker could coordinate such a heavy schedule of sexual encounters, let alone a less-than-micromanaging full-time coach in an exhausting schedule of field time, out-of-town recruiting, family life and a national charity to manage with fundraisers and road engagements?
And all this coupled with a now-known medical condition that compromised his masculinity in his prime, let alone his mid-50s and 60s, when all the episodes alleged in the trial were to have occurred.