The Sandusky Trial

I was too young during the O.J. trial, too distant from the MJ trial, and I kind of came into the Casey Anthony trial a bit late. So the Jerry Sandusky trial is probably the first high-profile case I have followed in my lifetime. Despite and maybe because of its uncomfortable subject matter, I decided to follow the course of the trial from its beginning to end as well as I could. Because I am working to be a court reporter, whether in the courtroom or doing freelance deposition work, I figure uncomfortable subject matter is going to be something I have to get used to sooner rather than later. As a court reporter, I will have to be a neutral presence in the courtroom. I’m allowed to have opinions, so I would not be impartial, per se, but I would be there to take down the record as it was spoken, and that is all. A court reporter was one taken to court for rolling her eyes during an examination (I wish I had a link, but I can’t find the article).

Like the rest of the world, I was curious what the defense was going to do. The defense has no obligation to present witnesses or exhibits any more than the defendant is obligated to testify, but given the amount of evidence against Sandusky, you kind of had to assume the defense would be mounting its own case. And especially after Sandusky’s disastrous interview with Bob Costas and Amendola’s misguided words trying to salvage the situation, you kind of wondered whether they would misstep by letting Sandusky testify or whether they would give in to public outcry by letting Sandusky try and explain the suspicious, inappropriate actions to which he already admitted. And since that interview was admitted in court, it is now evidence and may be considered by the jury – Sandusky’s own disturbing words, but not the whole story.

The justice system has its foibles, but I had hope that the usual problems would mostly be dealt with because the attorneys on both sides are professional and known in their circles. That way it is harder to claim that one side or the other had a poor attorney. The real question would be jury bias, but I assume Amendola made damn sure that the people in the jury box were going into it with as open a mind as they could.

That is how I tried to approach the case, imagining I was one of the jurors. I had my suspicions, but I was willing to suspend those suspicions and wait until the testimony and exhibits were presented before I made up my mind.

But the truth is, I’m only human. The first few pieces of testimony were heart-breaking, with the image of young men and older teenage boys sitting on the witness stand and telling what happened to them in a public courtroom. Their identities have been shielded in the press out of respect, but it’s still very public. Even if they don’t know it by looking at you, everyone will know your words. And that’s the best evidence there is that most of them were telling the truth as well as they could – because what young man, still in the process of forming his masculine identity and confidence, would stand up and admit that he had been abused by another man?

We in the US may not have the same level of fragile masculine pride as  machismo in Latin America, but especially in the transition from teenager to adult, adjusting to one’s masculine identity can be a fragile process. It’s hard enough for women to stand up and face the examination of their attorney by revealing the events and then getting reamed by the defense cross-examination that basically slut-shames them. Imagine how hard that is, and then imagine how hard it is for young men molested by men to admit that it happened, even to themselves.

The victims’ reluctance to give all the facts in the early investigation; the investigators (in my opinion) reasonable strategy to assure possible victims that there were others who went through the same thing (which can be a huge motivator to admit that something also happened to you, the solidarity of not being alone in your shame); Dottie’s apparent lack of knowledge of anything happening (a denial and desperate ignorance common to wives who marry monsters) and describing the boys almost like one might a romantic rival; none of these things that the defense presented as evidence to provide reasonable doubt take away the gravity of the victims’ testimony.

They indicate a man grooming his victims, a man who may genuinely have a twisted affection for his victims (re: the love letters), but a predator nonetheless. And how does the defense react in cross-examination of the witness? In the most baffling way possible: By quibbling with dates and how many times it happened. When it happens a lot and a long time ago, how the hell is a person supposed to remember exact dates and exactly how many times? For most of the victims, Amendola did absolutely nothing to instill reasonable doubt.

And then the defense’s attempt to portray Sandusky as personality disordered. WTeverlovingF? The defense has not offered an insanity plea, for one. Secondly, a personality disorder would not be sufficient for an insanity plea, with the exception of the occasional borderline with transient psychosis. And they were not presenting Sandusky as borderline, but as histrionic: with inappropriate seductive behavior and attention seeking behavior, as “evidenced” by his love letters. 1) Sandusky does not seem to have histrionic personality; he just seemed to be a pedophile. And 1) histrionic personality disorder, even if he had it, would not be a defense; it would be a reason. Amendola, you were not helping your case with that at all. People with personality disorders have trouble dealing with their limitations in the real world, but they know right from wrong, and so they cannot be considered legally insane in the justice system. But Amendola wasn’t arguing insanity, so what was even the point?

And the character witnesses that Amendola brought in … I know character witnesses can be of some use in some cases, but pointing out the good that he did doesn’t indicate at all that he could have a secret life and that he couldn’t do bad during that secret life. Predators like Sandusky, high-functioning predators, are very good at hiding their proclivities and are often very charming. Character witnesses might as well be fluff – they certainly aren’t proof that bad stuff did not happen.

If I have doubt about any of the charges, it would be about the charges based on the account of Victim 1, the first to testify, although his testimony was really hard to hear and everyone’s introduction into the case. I’m not sure if it’s a reasonable doubt (which is why I’m glad I’m not a juror), but the next-door neighbor’s testimony about his mother and him talking about the civil payout is a little troubling. On the other hand, I’d be looking for what little silver lining there may be to what happened, too, and based on the difficulty of his testimony … I’m not sure a man in our society would admit to something like that just for a new Jeep. It’s one thing for a mother to convince her five-year-old to lie, as in the MJ case. It’s another to get a twentysomething young man to admit he was raped by another man when he was a boy, in public, with tears.

It’s not a complete doubt, it’s not an absolute doubt, but is it a reasonable doubt, which is all that is required? After all, as a juror, you have to assume Sandusky is innocent until proven guilty, so any reasonable doubt must be acknowledged. I think, in light of the pattern set by the rest of the victims’ testimony, I’d say it isn’t a reasonable doubt, but I would understand if a juror saw it that way.

However, the defense completely and utterly failed to instill reasonable doubt in reference to any of the other heart-wrenching testimonials. After the first testimony, Victim 1’s, everyone knew it was going to be a tough case to stomach, and I’m glad that I was not in the courtroom myself, that reading articles gave it a little bit of distance.

In the grand scheme of Sandusky’s potential punishment, that one little, possible reasonable doubt doesn’t mean much. He’s likely going to be going to jail for life, which is small consolation for the horrible things that he has done without remorse. Especially with the new claim by one of Sandusky’s adopted sons that he, too, was a victim of his adopted father. (Is he just in it for a payout, sir?)

Because I am not a juror, I have the right to my opinions and my feelings. So, like the rest of the world, I’m angry that Sandusky did not take the stand and testify so that we could get his own words on the subject. I’m angry at his apparent indifference and lack of remorse to the terrible things said by the witnesses. I’m angry that he openly admits that he touched these boys in the shower but that there was nothing wrong with that, even though most of this was done in this decade of hypersensitive no-touching policy (and this is why we have it, folks, as frustrating as it can be). I’m angry that he has this smirk, like he thinks he’s going to get away with it. And I’m sure I’m not the only one holding my breath for the jury’s verdict and Sandusky’s reaction. And I’m waiting for his death-bed confession. If I were a juror, I’m pretty sure I’d say he was guilty.

I’m hoping that justice, or a reasonable facsimile, will be served.

ETA 06-22-2012: Jerry Sandusky found guilty of 45 out of 48 charges, likely to put him away for life.

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