From grinning and laughing during jury selection, to a somber face of a disgraced man, after hearing a verdict of guilty on 45 counts of child sex abuse, Jerry Sandusky went from once celebrated assistant football coach to became the most hated man in America. The crowd outside the Bellefonte court room erupted in cheers upon hearing the verdict. Many were happy to see the man who wrecked their happy Penn State home get convicted. That’s a far cry from one year ago when the Penn State community was in denial at hearing Sandusky’s abuse charges and the cover up involving famed coach Joe Paterno, Penn State President Graham Spanier and other college officials.
Second to Sandusky being hated is his attorney Joe Amendola. Following the verdict, Amendola spoke about the deck being stacked against his client, a man waiting to be sentenced up to 442 years. In reality, the opposite was true. The defense was given the right to keep the trial in Centre County, over the wishes of the prosecution. Nine of the jurors had ties to Penn State, some with substantial ties to the college. The Penn State jury was viewed favorably by the defense up until Friday’s verdict. Amendola now complains much ado about nothing.
Amendola intends to appeal the verdict. An appeal must be based on an error of law and not just dissatisfaction with the outcome. In order to be successful, the error must have harmed Sandusky’s defense. Judge John Leland gave the defense just about everything they asked for, in order to preclude the possibility of having a valid reason to appeal. While a defense request for delay was denied, a defendant has a right to be tried swiftly by the prosecution. So while Amendola has a legal right to appeal his client’s verdict and ask for a new trial, it will likely be futile.
The question beyond any appeal is how Penn State intends to move forward following the verdict. Two pending perjury cases remain against Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley for lying to a Grand Jury about the sex abuse cover up case. Civil cases are pending for many of the victims. The way Penn state handles the aftermath of Sandusky’s trial will determine its legacy for the future.
Penn State can start by not making these victims testify again in a civil trial. A civil trial has a lower standard than a criminal case. Since a criminal jury believed the victims, it’s very likely a civil case would have the same results. While some of the victims are suing in a civil case, no amount of money can ever give them back what they lost. They cannot be fully compensated for the loss of their childhood and innocence.
Penn State can start by settling these cases and any future ones. Penn State should provide a fund for future victims who may come forward later. They should also fund a nonprofit organization to help victims of child sexual abuse, offering services such as treatment, counseling, job skills and other necessary services by caring and skilled professionals. That’s what these victims and their families thought they were getting when they entered Sandusky’s Second Mile —a caring and nurturing environment with opportunities for their future success. Instead, they found a child sex predator who robbed them of their youth. And for that Sandusky deserves to be sentenced to all 442 years.
While Sandusky is hated in the Penn State community and across the country, he is not in a category by himself. The pedophile case of Sandusky is in many ways like ones that I have prosecuted. They generally involve an adult in a position of trust and sometimes a family member or close family friend. As a country, it is difficult for us to talk openly about sexual crimes. And that attitude allows these sexual deviants to continue to prey on children often times for years. Making it easier to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse, report and prosecute it, will go a long way towards helping victims of abuse. If Penn State can create a foundation to help victims of sex abuse, Penn State will leave a far greater legacy than any football championships.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She also writes for the Huffington Post and Politic 365.