BELLEFONTE — Jerry Sandusky’s lawyer said he plans to chip away at the motives and character of the alleged victims and prosecution witnesses including Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant in 2002 who told a grand jury he saw Sandusky sexually assault a child.
Speaking to reporters after a brief court appearance Tuesday morning, attorney Joe Amendola said “credibility is going to be the main factor in this case.”
He took aim at both McQueary and the alleged victims in the case, some of whom said Sandusky fondled them, others who said he forced them to have sex.
“Do you realize that many of these young men already have civil attorneys for the lawsuits that are being filed, have been filed, or will be filed?” Amendola said. “What greater motivation — and I hate to say it, but it’s going to be part of the case so we’re checking on it now — what greater motivation could there be than money? I’ve seen money break up families. I’ve seen siblings become enemies fighting over their parents’ assets after their parents pass away.
“What greater motivation, folks, could there be than the financial gain that could come out of this by saying, ‘I’m a victim.’ ”
Amendola spoke for almost an hour to reporters in front of the Centre County Courthouse after Sandusky waived his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday morning. Waiving the hearing was an unexpected move — one of several decisions Amendola has made that legal experts say depart from conventional wisdom.
Amendola on Tuesday particularly questioned McQueary’s testimony and different versions of his story that have surfaced, saying the “credibility of Mike McQueary has been put into question.”
He pointed to the allegation in the grand jury report that McQueary saw Sandusky raping a boy who appeared to be 10 years old. McQueary reportedly told his father about the incident, then told Joe Paterno. McQueary later told then-athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the now retired executive vice president for finance, what he had seen, according to the attorney general’s account.
But Curley and Schultz gave a different version of events, saying they weren’t told a sexual assault took place. The grand jury concluded they were lying.
Amendola questioned how the university’s response to such allegations could have been merely to tell Sandusky not to use the facilities.
“Does that make any sense?” he asked.
He also pointed to Mc- Queary’s more recent assertion that he called police after witnessing the alleged rape — which differs from the grand jury report — and a recent (Harrisburg) Patriot-News report from an anonymous source that Dr. Jonathan Dranov, a friend and colleague of McQueary’s father, gave the grand jury yet another version of McQueary’s report.
McQueary “was the commonwealth’s centerpiece,” Amendola said. “To the extent that we destroy his credibility, I think we put everybody else’s credibility into question in this case.”
Sandusky faces 52 counts of criminal charges, including involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, stemming from allegations that he sexually molested boys he met through The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youth that he founded in 1977.
Bill Costopoulos, a noted criminal defense attorney from Harrisburg, said preliminary hearings can provide the defense a valuable preview of the state’s case. He said that raises the question of why Amendola would waive the hearing if, as he and prosecutors insist, there have been no plea negotiations.
“There can only be two reasons for it. One was the avalanche of horrific testimony that was going to be presented in the courtroom that the defense did not want to deal with,” Costopoulos said. “The defense has also indicated that the reason they waived the preliminary hearing was to preclude the possibility of bail being modified.”
Sandusky posted $250,000 bail and is being electronically monitored on house arrest. The court could have modified that bail once the charges were bound over for trial.
Costopoulos said that isn’t common, but it can occur.
“And if indeed there was an avalanche of horrific testimony, the threat of bail being modified was very real,” he said. “The tradeoff, of course, was the missed opportunity for the defense to get a very good preview of the commonwealth’s case.”
Jules Epstein, associate professor of law at Widener School of Law Delaware, said there may be back story.
“Normally, cross examining a witness at a preliminary hearing is a critical step to preparing for trial,” Epstein said. “However, sometimes there are significant trade-offs.”
In this case, Amendola said he reached agreement with prosecutors that he would get discovery material early, that conditions of Sandusky’s bail would not change, and if more charges are filed, he would be given the opportunity to turn himself in.
And Epstein cautioned that waiving a preliminary hearing is not an indication of a defendant’s guilt.
“A preliminary hearing does not ask ‘Do we believe these young men?’ ” he said. Instead, since the witnesses are saying under oath that their testimony is true, the judge who binds the charges over, “is saying let’s have a trial to find out.”
Both Costopoulos and Epstein said it’s highly unusual for a defense attorney to let his client talk to national media before court proceedings. Since Sandusky was arraigned on Nov. 5, he and Amendola have given interviews to two major media outlets — NBC and the New York Times.
“If the intent was to change the court of public opinion in any way, it did not work,” Costopoulos said.
“I don’t think there’s anything that Sandusky can say to the media at this time that’s going to change the perception of the court of public opinion,” he said.
Epstein said he isn’t Sandusky’s lawyer, so it’s hard to say exactly why Amendola allowed the interviews.
“It may be that in a case with tremendously one-sided publicity that a need was felt to give an airing of the alternative version,” he said. “One possible disadvantage is that under the law of evidence, any word Mr. Sandusky says to anyone is admissible against him at trial.”
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648.