BELLEFONTE — The young men Jerry Sandusky stands accused of sexually abusing will not be allowed to testify anonymously, the judge overseeing the case ruled Monday.
In a written order, Senior Judge John Cleland said the request was complicated — “even controversial” — but there was no legal basis to justify an adult witness of an alleged sexual crime using a pseudonym.
“It is my view that there is no support in Pennsylvania law for offering anonymity to an adult witness because the witness is one of a class of victims of a particular crime,” he wrote.
Cleland added: “Courts are not customarily in the business of withholding information. Secrecy is thought to be inconsistent with the openness required to assure the public that the law is being administered fairly and applied faithfully.”
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Attorneys for some of the alleged victims had asked the court to protect the young men’s names so they didn’t have to say them from the witness stand.
The attorneys argued that having to reveal their names in open court could cause the young men humiliation or pain.
Cleland said the court and the attorneys in the case have made reasonable efforts so far to protect the names of the alleged victims. For instance, the judge ordered that no one release the names of the alleged victims and that any subpoenas in the case have a large-print notice attached to it that the names are not to be released or given to anyone else.
“While I will make every effort to be sensitive to the nature of the alleged victims’ testimony,” Cleland said, “once the trial begins the veil must be lifted.”
He also called on the media to respect the privacy of the young men when they testify.
Cleland said he conferred with the attorneys in the case and defense attorney Joe Amendola did not object to the alleged victims’ request. But the prosecution explained the issue to the alleged victims that the motions aren’t based on any standard of law.
State College attorneys Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici, who represent alleged victims 3 and 7, were among those asking for their clients’ privacy. The were disappointed with the judge’s decision.
“The victims in this case courageously came forward and provided extremely painful and personal information to investigators and prosecutors so that they could help protect children from further harm and exploitation,” they said in a statement. “The victims’ experiences, the abuse they have suffered and its effects, and their testimony at trial are certainly matters that are critical to the public interest. However, their personal identities are not.”
Advocacy groups also had hoped for a different ruling from the judge.
Kristen Houser, vice president of communications at Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said the group, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief, thought there was basis in the law to allow for the use of pseudonyms.
“It’s really sending a message that if you’re going to act in the interest of public safety, you’re taking a huge risk by having the most personal parts of your life opened up for voyeuristic interests,” she said.
“On top of that, we’re highly hopeful that members of the media as well as amateur bloggers and other folks following this understand the emotional risks, and for some, physical risks, this may bring to the (alleged) victims, and not make their names public,” she said.
Christopher M. Anderson, executive director of the nonprofit MaleSurvivor, said the group hopes Cleland will reconsider the decision.
“We have seen what can happen when the identities of parties in this case, and other sexual abuse cases, are made public,” he said. “Already one (alleged) victim in this case was bullied out of his school when an article in The New York Times revealed enough personal details of his life to make him easily identifiable in his hometown.
“In other cases, victims are often bullied, harassed, and otherwise pressured to drop out of cases when the accused are influential members of the community. We urge the media to honor their longstanding tradition of honoring the anonymity of rape survivors who do not wish to have their identities made public.”
The Centre Daily Times traditionally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault or crimes against children.
CDT staff writer Anne Danahy contributed to this report. Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616.
Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.