No real victory in Sandusky verdict
BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- The silence of Jerry Sandusky was total. Even after the jury foreman had spoken, finding the former Penn State assistant coach guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual molestation of 10 victims, even as he was being led in handcuffs, out the back door of the Centre County Courthouse, and off to a nearby jail, to spend his first night of the rest of his life as a convicted felon, he never made a noise. Sandusky was stoic in the face of what could be up to a 442-year sentence after a trial in which he did not take the stand to testify. There was no sign of the creepy grinning he engaged in during Thursday's closing arguments, when prosecutor Joseph McGettigan III branded him a "serial, predatory pedophile" responsible for ravaging the lives of 10 children.
"You sick bastard!" a middle-aged woman screamed at Sandusky from a safe distance, while she shook with rage. He did not react.
"Jerry? What do you want to say to the victims?" a reporter pleaded repeatedly.
There was no answer. We may never know what lies in the head of the monster who stunned this area of Pennsylvania, creating a scandal that ultimately brought down legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier for failing to stop it. Sandusky was still wearing the brown blazer he had on in court, where he stood and stared at the jury foreman as he read each verdict -- the product of more than 20 hours of deliberation that concluded at 9:53 p.m. Friday. Sheriffs helped Sandusky into the back seat of a squad car, where he sat and stared straight ahead, into nothingness.
"Rot in hell!" yelled the same woman, Kelly Rinaldi, as the car began to pull away. She had no attachment to the case, but had driven from nearby Mifflin County to see its ending, she said, "because Jerry Sandusky's type makes me ill."
Nearly all of the other onlookers preferred to gather at the front of the Greek-columned courthouse that was built in 1805 and remains the centerpiece of this 6,100-person town 10 miles northeast of State College, where Sandusky used his influence as a football coach and head of the Second Mile charity to come into contact with potential victims. The crowd roared as the verdict was announced, and as Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda L. Kelly said, "One question that kept coming up in this case is, 'Who would believe a kid?' ... A jury of 12 here in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania most definitely would, and did, believe a kid."
Earlier, the same crowd booed lead defense attorney Joe Amendola as he asked, rhetorically, "Does the fact that 45 of 48 counts [came in] prove to me that my client is sick? The answer is no. ... There are lots of people sitting in jails around this country who are innocent."
"You think he's innocent?" a young man yelled, incredulous. Amendola barely seemed to believe in his own statement -- it was he, who just five hours earlier, violated Judge John Cleland's gag order during a dead period in the courtroom and told a reporter who asked what would happen if Sandusky were acquitted, "I will die of a heart attack."
Amendola said he was handicapped by the late-trial bombshell that Sandusky's 33-year-old adopted son, Matt, also claimed to be a victim of molestation; they had planned to have Sandusky testify but could not risk having Matt appear as a rebuttal witness. (The jury went into deliberations without knowing of Matt's allegation, which hit the media on Thursday.) Although Amendola had delivered an impassioned closing argument, alleging a money-driven conspiracy between the victims and saying that all the time Sandusky spent in public with his victims didn't make sense -- "You'd have to believe he was the boldest perpetrator in history," Amendola said -- it would go down as a failed Hail Mary.
The weight of evidence against Sandusky was too heavy, too real, and could not be written off as a conspiracy. Eight victims appeared in court to tell harrowing tales of Sandusky assaulting them in showers at the Penn State football complex or in a basement room at his State College home. Former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary retold the story of an anal rape he witnessed Sandusky commit against a still-unidentified victim in the Penn State shower room, and a former university janitor testified that a colleague had seen Sandusky forcing another unidentified boy to perform oral sex on him in the same location. There was a seemingly endless list of nausea-inducing phrases that Sandusky used, from calling himself the "tickle monster" in pre-assault foreplay, to writing a longing letter entitled the "B-J story" to one victim, and thanking another boy, in a note, "for your special touch."
After the jury began deliberations at 1:12 p.m. Thursday, the majority of the public, on Twitter and around the courthouse, wanted a quick, guilty verdict -- and some wanted more than that. Timatha McWilliams, a woman from Howard, Pa., who had been arriving at around 3 a.m. each day to secure a spot in the courthouse, said, "This is horrible to say, but I think they should just hang him."
The jury, though, was deliberate, spending one and a half days considering all 48 charges and stopping at two points to ask questions. They requested a full re-reading of McQueary's testimony on Friday morning, as well as a clarification of how circumstantial evidence applied to the janitor's hearsay testimony. Doubts crept up --
The Sandusky trial was not just something difficult to digest via newscasts or in print -- it was an uncomfortable-yet-undeniably major national event that descended on a place that bills itself as "Central Pennsylvania's Victorian Secret." Bellefonte's downtown, with storefronts such as Plumb's Drugs and the Diamond Deli, as well Elk's and Moose Lodges within blocks of each other, would need little-to-no alteration to serve as the setting for a 1950s film. In a normal year, its biggest event is a classic car exhibition, which took place last weekend as almost an afterthought to the trial.
Juxtaposed against this retro scene was a modern media invasion. A mass of 22 television trucks ringed three city blocks around the courthouse: On Allegheny Street, two deep, there was Fox News, CNN and NBC, and around the corners were TruTV, ABC and local affiliates galore. Anchors and cameramen hung out under 13 canopied tents, in an unofficial Camp Sandusky. A man dressed in a Pedobear costume appeared on Wednesday -- as if the creepiness factor needed to be upped -- and then again on Friday night, dancing and holding a sign that said, "Rot in Jail, Jerry!" Meanwhile, a strong local police presence hovered on the margins, and SWAT-teamers were even on the rooftops, but strangely, most of them were there for a trial taking place next door. Two armed robbery suspects were believed to have ties to the Russian mob. "Sandusky," said one cop who was explaining why the robbers demanded more attention, "isn't the one who threatened the life of a judge."
Just hours before the Sandusky verdict came in on Friday, a jury deemed that the Russians, too, were guilty. Directly across the street from that trial is the Victorian House, an antique shop advertising "Signed Joe Paterno Items" in its window, a reminder of the exalted status that Sandusky's former boss maintains in this area. The owner, Mitch Bradley, has two goldfish on a bowl on his front counter; he named them "JoePa," and "Terno," as a way to honor the late coach.
Bradley thought it was important to witness the trial, a spectacle like no other in the town's history, and on the final day, he closed his shop and brought his 11-year-old daughter, Preston, along with him to the court. Preston was the youngest person who witnessed the verdict being read aloud; she knew that because she had to get special permission from judge Cleland to let her in. "Some of the McQuaery [read-back] testimony today got graphic, and it made me tense that she had to hear it," her father said. "But we're a pretty open family, and we think it's important for our kids to know what's out there, and what to look for."
And what did a child, the same age as some of the victims were when their lives were ripped apart by Sandusky's touch, think of what happened? Preston Bradley was happy with the outcome, but deeply bothered by what had transpired. When she hears the name Jerry Sandusky, she said, "I don't like the feeling I get, because of what he's done. I don't feel comfortable."
No one does, Preston, not even after cycle of belief in Sandusky's case is complete. He was allowed to menace so many boys because no one wanted to believe, at first, that it was possible. The first accusers were told that Sandusky "had a heart of gold," and one potential witness dismissed what he saw, he said, because "Jerry was a saint." That sentiment eroded after Sandusky was arrested in November 2011. By the time of his trial, he was widely reviled and sparsely defended, and a jury of his peers had the final say: guilty on 45 counts of sexual molestation. They believed in those eight boys' stories.
He gave them no reaction, staying stone-faced and quiet even as one of the victims openly wept in the courtroom. And although the crowd on the courthouse steps countered that silence by roaring for the End of Jerry Sandusky, it was no real victory. It was only an ending, too many years and too many victims to allow anyone to leave feeling comfortable.