Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Quest for the truth aids lead prosecutor in Sandusky case, colleagues say

Dennis McAndrews can picture the late nights, the mountains of files and, more than anything, the intensity Joe McGettigan brings to a case.

From his Philadelphia-area law office, McAndrews has seen it all — offering a glimpse of what the lead prosecutor in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse trial is like behind the scenes.

McAndrews was joined at the hip with McGettigan for more than a year, logging countless hours as they prepared for what, at the time, was perhaps the biggest moment of their careers.

For three weeks in February 1997, America watched as McAndrews and McGettigan prosecuted the murder trial for John du Pont, heir to the du Pont chemical fortune.

Grabbing headlines across the world, the case read like a crime novel.

Du Pont, the multimillionaire, shot and killed David Schultz, the former U.S. Olympic wrestler, then locked himself in his mansion for two days while negotiating with police.

Now, McGettigan, thrust back into the national spotlight, is lead prosecutor for the state Attorney General’s Office in the Sandusky case.

Philadelphia-based defense attorney Fortunato N. Perri Jr. has known McGettigan for 25 years, and thinks he’s the right man for the job.

“One of the last things you’d like to see when you walk in as a defense attorney is Joe sitting on the other side,” he said.

Perri worked alongside McGettigan with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and against him in private practice in both state and federal court.

“He’s very passionate about what he believes in,” Perri said. “He’s bright — a tireless, dedicated worker, and a tremendous trial lawyer — one of the best I’ve ever seen in my career.”

Like Perri, McGettigan began his career with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. In 1993, after 11 years in Philadelphia, he began his first stint with the state Attorney General’s Office.

McGettigan later served as Delaware County’s first assistant district attorney, and as a federal prosecutor.

In January 2010, he returned to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office as first assistant district attorney.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported he left the office after rumored personality differences with District Attorney R. Seth Williams.

Six months later, in December, he was back with the Attorney General’s Office — the newest member of the Sandusky prosecution team.

A former Penn State assistant football coach, Sandusky is facing 52 counts for allegedly abusing boys he met through The Second Mile, a nonprofit he founded for at-risk children. He denies the charges.

‘An aggressive battle’

Those who know him described McGettigan as a feisty opponent who has a knack for knowing defense attorneys’ next move.

Asked to describe the man he has known for 30 years, Philadelphia defense attorney Charles Peruto gave one word: “unstoppable.”

“I’ve tried cases against him. It’s an aggressive battle,” Peruto said. “He’s got a temper, but he’s also very smart. Over the years, I’ve watched him get better and better, his temper taking a back seat to craft.”

In Centre County court, McGettigan has shown he speaks quickly and doesn’t mince words. He has been both eloquent and verbose in his responses to Sandusky attorney Joe Amendola.

“If you are where he is trying to get, you are going to get run over,” Peruto said.

McAndrews said Sandusky’s defense is in for a challenge.

“(McGettigan) has an amazing knack to know what the defense is going to do, sometimes before the defense knows what they are going to do,” he said. “It’s uncanny really — not something you see very often. His capacity to do that is unmatched.”

Peruto said McGettigan won’t let a defense attorney “get away with shenanigans,” and will attack weak arguments.

“That’s what he’s going to be good at — (addressing) whatever red herrings are raised,” Peruto said. “I can hear him already, going through the victims and asking ‘Is everyone really lying? Is everyone really doing this for money? Did really everyone know each other beforehand?”

‘Partner in the search for truth’

McAndrews has seen first hand his former du Pont co-counsel’s easy way with jurors. He makes them feel like part of the team.

“He knows what the jury needs to hear,” McAndrews said. “He has a great connection with the jury. They tend to see him as a partner in the search for truth.”

He said McGettigan doesn’t just present evidence, make his arguments and call it a day. He works the jury.

“He has a way of communicating with them,” Perri said. “It’s always important not to talk at them, but to speak with them.”

That’s especially important in a longer trial, one with a large amount of evidence that could potentially confuse a jury, McAndrews said.

“The longer the trial, the more important it is for the jury to feel they are in a partnership,” he said. “I don’t think juries feel like they are being argued to (with McGettigan).”

Perri said he’ll rely on those skills as the case moves forward. “He has the ability to stay in touch with jurors and keep the flow going.”

Won’t shy away from the spotlight

McGettigan is no stranger to high-profile cases, even beyond the du Pont trial.

He served on the prosecution team in several well-known Clinton County murder trials, including that of Shonda Walter, who was convicted of killing an 83-year-old veteran and taking $500 in quarters from him in March 2003, according to news reports.

Those who know him don’t expect him to be rattled by the Sandusky case.

“He’s handled these cases,” Perri said. “He’s certainly not one who shies away from the spotlight. He’s been down that road.”

McAndrews knows that better than most, having spent time in the national media’s focus alongside McGettigan.

McGettigan wasn’t shy about talking to reporters before Senior Judge John Cleland issued a gag order in the Sandusky case.

He is still often photographed outside courthouse in Bellefonte, with his trademark white hair and black sunglasses, smoking a cigarette.

But McAndrews said there are differences between the du Pont and Sandusky cases, likely providing a challenge for McGettigan.

“They set a stage before he was even assigned to the case,” McAndrews said. “Rather than being the single source of critical information, here he is left with residue from a wide variety of separate self interests on the part of organizations and civil attorneys.”

McAndrews predicted the media attention will make jury selection difficult.

“So many people have loyalty to Penn State,” he said. “Some may have good memories of Sandusky, others are horrified by the nature of the crimes. How that all tests out is a unique aspect of this case.”

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter