At least eight young men and children everywhere slept easier last night, knowing that a clarion call has gone out following the verdict in the historic sex abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky.
Found guilty of 45 out of 48 counts of the criminal carges Judge John Cleland told the jury they could consider during deliberations, Sandusky was led away in handcuffs last night as an unprecedented number of families stood cheering on the Centre County Courthouse lawn.
I spoke with one father there, who came out with his wife and sons. Unfortunately, I can’t use his name, because he works with Juror No. 4, who was also the jury foreman. But this father of three, whose sons are six, 11 and 14, said the foreman is a computer engineer whose first name is Mark. “He’s a good guy, very intelligent and deeply thoughtful,” this dad said.
Because of that, he said he knew the jury would deliberate in a systematic fashion, sifting carefully through all of the evidence.
Which they did, for more than 20 hours. This father said “justice was served, probably a little late.” He then summed up why Sandusky was able to molest so many children for so long. “When someone is put on a pedestal just for having a skill, this is what happens,” he said.
It’s one thing to attend a trial as a member of the media. It’s another matter to attend as a survivor of just such a predator. Justice for Victims 1-10 means justice for me and many, many other survivors of sex abuse whose abuser will never see the inside of a courtroom or face 442 years in a prison cell.
So yes, I was ecstatic at last night’s verdict, and happy that for the first time since this story broke, the smile was wiped from Sandusky’s face. (I was so happy I didn’t even take time to turn around and congratulate the only victim—that I know of) who was in the courtroom to hear the verdict.
But I watched him from where I sat, as the foreman read it. Because I couldn’t see his face, I had to ask one of the many trial sketch artists there, who did see, what his facial features revealed. She said he was sobbing.
What I saw was the arm of the woman who sat beside him, and how she touched him as Sandusky was declared guilty. It was as if she was saying, “Look what you accomplished! You brought this horrible man down. You stopped him.”
By the time media began filing back into the courtroom earlier that evening, around 8:30 p.m., a nervous energy was palpable, as rumblings that something was underway were barely beginning. But aisles in the middle of the courtroom had been cleared and the buzz continued to grow, so that by the time Dottie Sandusky walked into the courtroom at 9:45 p.m., that buzz was a dull roar.
It had been present since the beginning, no doubt. I wouldn’t know, since I only arrived Wednesday. (I covered the early days of this case, and knew I had to drive to Bellefonte to see and hear the trial’s outcome for myself. As if foreshadowing the jury’s verdict, as I headed for the courthouse Wednesday morning, I passed the Rockview State Correctional Institution. I had to stop and take a photo, and ponder Sandusky’s possible future there.)
I entered the courtroom for the first time Thursday, for closing arguments, and that’s when I heard it: the sound of keyboards clattering all around the room. Every time something of any import happened, journalists put their fingers to keyboards and began typing.
By last night, the clicking sounds had grown to a dull roar, and every keystroke seemed to signal impending action.
9:45 p.m.—Dottie Sandusky, flanked by family members, enters the courtroom from a door behind the judge’s bench.
9:50 p.m.—The defendant, wearing a rust-colored corduroy blazer, enters with his counsel from a different door behind the bench.
9:52 p.m.—A voice announces, “All rise, court is in session.”
9:53 p.m.—Judge Cleland speaks: “Good evening. Be seated.”
10:09 p.m.—Sandusky, confirmed sex offender, is led away, and leaves the courtroom through the door his wife entered just minutes earlier.
My notes have gaps and so don’t reflect the time the seven female and five male jurors began filing in, or when the grey-haired foreman, dressed in a blue checkered button-down shirt, stood to read the verdict. It was after Judge Cleland gave the media very clear instructions about what not to do in his courtroom—or risk facing the consequences for breaking his rules.
I was more interested in seeing if any of the jurors looked in Sandusky’s direction, which one can guess might reveal the verdict. Two jurors did: one was a tall and clean-shaven young man, probably the youngest juror and the same age as some of Sandusky’s victims. The other was a woman with black hair who could have been the mother of one of the victims.
As I struggled to jot down the verdict for each of the 48 counts, I also tried to watch the sole victim in front of me, as well as Sandusky and his wife. As the foreman read the last count and delivered a guilty verdict, the young man bowed his head very briefly, as if in prayer, and took a deep breath. Exhaling, his shoulders dropped. It was as if in that single exhalation, all the tension in the courtroom evaporated. For him, though, I’m sure it was more about the relief he was feeling, at knowing his abuser was going to be spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Responses from people who heard the jury’s verdict varied, but I think it’s accurate to say they were just as relieved. As I filed out of the courtroom and down the stairs, I found myself behind the white courthouse pillars, in the glare of the spotlight and directly behind Lisa “Pinky” Shirk. She’s a local woman who’s urged ongoing support for the victims ever since the story broke. Her overwhelming fear throughout had been that Sandusky would get off.
As we reached the last step and she realized I was behind her, she turned around, hugged me, and then, overcome with emotion, she broke into tears. Clinging to me, she sobbed and sobbed, as long months of fear and frustration, and anger and despair for what the victims have gone through, flowed freely.
Shirk was one of many, many people on the courthouse lawn who couldn’t hide their emotions. Who had turned out in hopes of hearing just such a verdict. One such young woman was Rebecca Berry (curious coincidence, but no relation that I know of), who drove from Farmington, Conn., twice, to attend the proceedings.
That’s because Berry forgot her identification when she arrived at the trial two weeks ago. Without it, she couldn’t gain entry. Berry had to drive her “beat-up Crown Victoria” seven hours back home, go to the Department of Motor Vehicles so she could replace her lost license, and then drive back to Bellefonte. The two trips were more than 2,100 miles.
Berry, also a survivor of sexual abuse, couldn’t keep her emotion under control as each count was being read. So from the still courtroom, save for the foreman’s voice, many of us sitting there heard the sound of a choked sob. That was Berry.
“I started crying right there. It was when I heard the verdict for Victim No. 9 . . . he was such a baby and it was so brutal, what happened to him,” Berry said. “The Penn State case was very triggering to me as a survivor. I avoid these cases usually and I’m able to because I don’t really watch shows like Nancy Grace, but I couldn’t get away from Penn State. It was everywhere. It was hard to see the coverage. When I read about the victim who was bullied out of school, it upset me to the point I threw my laptop across the room. And broke it. It was infuriating to me,” Berry added.
Berry said she felt personally vindicated at the trial’s outcome.
After the verdict was announced and things had calmed down somewhat, authorities held a press conference. Attorney General Linda Kelly said the trial’s outcome shows that in Pennsylvania, “we believe the children.”
Kelly said she hopes the verdict will “help the voices of victims be heard and we can try to drive away the demons and the darkness and lift the veil of secrecy that allows predators to hide and operate in our midst.”
The AG then spoke specifically about society’s moral obligation to help prevent child sex abuse.
“This is a law enforcement issue and every police department and investigating agency across the country should take note of this case and ensure that every claim of child sexual abuse is addressed promptly and investigated thoroughly, with the understanding that where there’s one victim, there very likely are more,” Kelly said.
“This crime is unacceptable, as well as unconscionable and should not and cannot be tolerated,” she added.
“This is also a family issue, and hopefully parents across the country will learn from this case how important it is to be vigilant about your child’s personal interactions with others and o make sure your child is conscious of their own safety and they must report these types of incidents.
Children “really are, truly, our most valuable natural resource. And they should always be our priority. Every one of us has the responsibility to be aware of the possibility of this type of crime and to speak out if you know something troubling,” Kelly said.
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Daleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: Daleen Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. She has expertise in overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment, and wrote about Wanda Toppins’ murder in her book, after reporting on the case in 1991 when she worked for The Preston County Journal. Wanda was another Preston County woman who died needlessly, and who Berry wrote about in Sister of Silence.
To read the Sister of Silence e-book (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.
Berry’s an award-winning author, editor and journalist who speaks at conferences around the country. Berry was one of two keynote speakers addressing a national audience at “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence,” the 18th Annual Conference of the Association of Batterers’ Intervention Programs on March 1, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif. She recently spoke to social workers from all over the country at the “Hope for the Future: Ending Domestic Violence in Families” conference at the University of California, Berkeley.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”
If you want to read dozens of other five-star reviews, check out this title on Amazon. To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel. For a mock up of the SOS t-shirt readers are demanding, check out Berry’s Facebook page.