Lawyers for Jerry Sandusky are once again questioning the idea of witness repressed memories in court.
The retired Penn State defensive coordinator continues to fight for a new trial that could overturn the 45 convictions for child sex abuse crimes. Another evidentiary hearing in Sandusky’s Post-conviction Collateral Relief Act petition was held Thursday. The first witness was one of the victims.
Attorney Andrew Salemme asked the man about his original statements that Sandusky had never touched him inappropriately versus later testimony that he had.
“This was the interview where I realized I needed to see someone, a specialist,” the man said. “That doorway I had closed has since been opened.”
When Salemme asked if that was due to therapy, the man said “partially.” He also acknowledged an email to author Mark Pedergrast about the topic, in which he said two of his therapists believed he had repressed memories and they were “working on finding triggers.”
Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Peterson countered by asking if he had any hypnosis or other repressed memory therapy before testimony. The victim said no.
Law and psychology professor Elizabeth Loftus, of the University of California-Irvine, said that doesn’t really matter.
In her testimony, Loftus, who has more than four decades of experience in the reliability and changeability of memory, said that the problem with what people remember is how easy it is to manipulate.
“One of the things we know about memory is it doesn’t work like a recording device. You don’t just play back,” she said.
Loftus, speaking over the phone as she had been called for jury duty in Los Angeles, told attorney Al Lindsey that exposure to other information could manipulate what a person remembers. She said that in her work, she had seen people convinced they saw stop signs instead of yield signs, that they had experienced childhood incidents that never took place and remembered committing teenage crimes they never perpetrated.
She pointed to questions with a few of the men in the Sandusky case, including the victim who testified earlier.
“There was a dramatic change in testimony from some of the accused. It seemed obvious there was an involvement of psychotherapy,” Loftus said. “One of the major reasons testimony changes is exposure to suggestive information.”
Peterson argued that Loftus could not comment on what treatment any of the men may have had as she hadn’t reviewed treatment notes. That prompted an objection from Lindsay.
“We have been asking since Day 1 for the therapy notes,” Lindsay said.
Those requests have not been granted by the court.
Peterson did get Loftus to confirm she was not saying that there was no sexual contact, or that there were no suppressed memories.
“It’s not impossible,” Loftus said. “All I can say is that in the decades people have been studying this, they have not been able to prove evidence of massive repression.”