A jury of 7 women and 5 men, with 7 jurors having ties to Penn State, has been selected to hear the Penn state sex abuse trial of former Penn State coaching assistant, Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky faces 52 counts for sexual abuse and pedophile acts on 10 boys over a 15 year period while coaching at Penn State. At least, seven of the victims, now adults, are expected to testify. The victims, like many other sex abuse and rape victims, may also be on trial too.
The prosecutor lost the battle to have the names of the victims shielded or their identity hidden. The victims will be allowed to walk through a tent without having the walk through the gauntlet of reporters and media, when they enter the court house. Once inside the court room, they will be faced with their own mini trial. Unfortunately, in all sexual abuse or rape cases, where there is no DNA evidence, the evidence rests solely on the credibility of the witnesses. And so the victims, now adults, will be aggressively cross examined by Sandusky’s lawyer on their truthfulness and recollection of events and details occurring many years ago. And it is not inconsistent for many victims of sexual child abuse to forget some of those awful details as a means of survival.
A jury made up of many jurors with connections to Penn State is like having a church sex abuse trial involving a Catholic priest with jurors consisting of current and former priests, church employees, altar boys and church members. While they may be sworn to be impartial, it may be difficult to place their personal feelings aside. With many of the jurors having financial and employment ties to Penn State, it becomes all the more difficult for them to set aside their own personal feelings about the case. While some analysts think they could go against Sandusky, the opposite is probably more likely to occur. It’s more likely a small town Penn State juror with financial ties to the school will look for ways to protect the school’s image.
Research shows that often times, jurors have their minds made up by opening statements and subconsciously look for information in the testimony to support for their viewpoint. If that’s true, then jurors who want to leave their beloved Penn State without a further tarnished image, may look for any discrepancies in the victims’ accounts to use as a means to uphold their viewpoint.
While State College is a small town and the area surrounding the school, it was not impossible to find 12 jurors and additional alternates who had no direct connection to Penn State. At least, if the judge had committed to making it happen, it would prevent from giving the appearance of the deck being stacked against the victims.
The defense will likely cross examine the victims on their motives in coming forward, their lack of details and in bringing lawsuits to win money, as if anyone asks for childhood sexual abuse to win money. The victims, like all victims, will be cross examined on their lifestyles. They are no longer innocent little boys looking up to an adult for leadership. The oldest victim is now 28 years old. But 15 years ago, they were all little boys, in some cases, looking for an adult male figure in their lives. And Sandusky allegedly moved in on them like a predator stalking a prey.
The prosecution must hammer home to the jury of Sandusky’s peers that these victims were innocent youth whose lives were forever tarnished by Sandusky. The prosecution must make clear that the adult men coming to testify are not the same little boys or teenagers who were allegedly sexually abused. And the defense should not be allowed to get away with abusing them again by putting them on trial. Let’s hope the Penn State jury knows the victims are not the ones on trial.
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.