Jury Deliberates: Will Sandusky Walk or Wear Stripes?
In a child sex abuse trial of historic proportions, where the victims have only been identified by number, I felt rather honored today to become a number myself. And even though I was “Public Member Number 21,” by the time I entered the courtroom, the only remaining seats were at the back of the room.
So I was unsure if I was seeing correctly, or if my eyes were playing tricks on me, when it appeared Jerry Sandusky was grinning as Prosecutor Joseph McGettigan recounted the last several days of testimony. I leaned over to my neighbor, a sports fan whose eyes see younger than mine, and asked if Sandusky was really grinning. “Yes,” he replied, adding that that was odd.
Odd, indeed, that as McGettigan described some very heinous sex acts Sandusky is said to have committed with boys as young as 10, the defendant would be grinning. Until today, I’d only heard of this legendary grin, smirk, smile, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve been hearing about it for months, as local residents who turned out for bond and other hearings discussed it on Facebook.
But today I saw it firsthand and let me tell you, it was creepy. I don’t care who you are, what your stature or how far up the ladder you are, it’s a sign of gross disrespect to grin as you’re being accused of molesting children. It’s especially troubling that Sandusky apparently sees nothing wrong with smiling so often, or so widely, during court proceedings and public appearances. But it’s a type of trouble I recognize: he’s also been described by onlookers as someone who seems immature, given he’s nearly 70 years old.
And yet, there’s something strangely familiar about his weirdness: he reminds me of a man I was once married to. I was one of his many victims and I saw those facial expressions in him, at the most inappropriate times. He also never grew up, in that he remained emotionally stunted throughout our ten-year marriage.
It’s been awhile since I’ve covered a trial as serious as this one, but I don’t think I’m mistaken in believing that there were many things about this high-profile trial that seem off. To begin with, that Sandusky would be represented by an attorney whose own–well, how best to say this?–criminal past makes him the perfect person to represent someone who has legal issues involving underage minors.
Then there was the surreal feeling I got during Joe Amendola’s closing argument: it seemed to me he couldn’t decide which side he was working for–the prosecution, or the defense. For instance, Amendola tried to convince the jury there was no medical evidence that the victims sustained injuries during the sex acts they said happened. Then Amendola elaborated, telling the jury that one victim who claimed he’d been forced to have anal sex with Sandusky only complained to his mother of having a stomachache.
That is not, however, what was weird. “If Mr. Sandusky had anal sex with that child . . . that’s not where the pain would be coming from,” Amendola said.
I looked around, so I know I wasn’t the only person in the courtroom who thought Amendola’s attempt–whatever it was–landed like a dud.
Personally, from the perspective of someone who survived years of sexual abuse, I can tell you that no matter which part of your physical body is assulted, the stomach is probably one of the first places you’re going to feel your very real physiological pain. So in my mind, that argument just served to further strengthen the Commonwealth’s case.
Amendola said and did many things which could be construed as either out of touch with reality (another reason he and his client are well suited), incompetent, or just plain weird, that I’ve come to believe he suffers greatly from a serious bout of cognitive dissonance. That’s the term psychologists give to the conflict you experience when your mind knows one thing (for instance, Jerry Sandusky’s a great coach and role model), but it’s confronted with another (such as seeing Sandusky rape a boy in a shower). Since you can’t believe what you saw, you fail to take action (as in failing to call 911 when you see this horrible abuse in progress).
You might recognize my description as one from the Sandusky files, when Mike McQueary walked in on just such a scene. But in Amendola’s case, because he said such things such as, “He decides to become a pedophile at 50-years-old,” or, “If Jerry Sandusky did this, he should rot in jail the rest of his life,” or, my personal favorite, “Slammed should be the title of his next book,” not long after talking about the slapping sounds McQueary heard coming from the shower, I have a hunch why Amendola posited such things to jurors.
So here’s my two cents, for what it’s worth: Amendo had sex with a minor who was under his authority, even getting her pregnant, and now he’s representing a man charged with molesting underage boys. In some ways, so far as I can tell, there’s little difference between the two crimes–especially given that Judge John Cleland clearly outlined for the Sandusky jury that when there’s an age difference of four years or more, when a victim is 16 or younger, even if (or when) the victim consents to the sex act, it’s a crime for the adult to engage in it.
I believe Amendola, on some level, knows what Sandusky did was wrong, and he’s faced with a client who believes in his own innocence, but given the laws Amendola works with daily, he has to be experiencing some cognitive dissonance. Anyway, enough about Amendola.
McGettigan’s closing argument was brilliant! He not only blew holes in the conspiracy theory Amendola fabricated, but he managed to bring in the humanity of the victims, explaining to the jurors that the reason some of them didn’t testify well was because of their youth, or because they were forced to sit all day waiting to testify, and then the defense treated them like liars and “money grubbers.”
But it was his final, physical move that stole the show. With slow, deliberate steps, McGettigan moved across the courtroom until he was directly behind Sandusky. Once there, he told jurors they could help the victims whose childhoods had been “ravished,” and whose memories had been “destroyed.”
“He knows he did it and you know he did it, so find him guilty,” McGettigan said.
I strained to see Sandusky’s face, hoping that surprise move, those powerful words, finally would have wiped the smirk from his smiling face, but the prosecutor blocked my view of the man whose future the jury now debates, as it decides whether he’ll walk or wear prison stripes.
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Daleen can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: 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.
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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.
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Christine Witthohn · June 21, 2012 at 5:34 PM
Nice article, Daleen. I can’t imagine someone smiling about such a topic, particularly if you are the one being accused of the heinous crimes!