Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Observers eager to see Joe Amendola's defense in Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial

Joe Amendola quips with reporters while leaving the Centre County Courthouse followed by Jerry Sandusky and co-council Karl Rominger after the jury was chosen for Sandusky's trial on Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Christopher Weddle
Joe Amendola quips with reporters while leaving the Centre County Courthouse followed by Jerry Sandusky and co-council Karl Rominger after the jury was chosen for Sandusky's trial on Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Christopher Weddle Centre Daily Times

For No. 2 Penn State’s showdown with No. 1 Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, Jerry Sandusky drew up a complex defense with 24 different calls.

It worked.

Penn State’s defense grabbed five interceptions, the last one with just seconds left that stopped the Hurricanes’ possible game-winning drive on fourth-and-goal.

Penn State held on to win, 14-10.

Now, 25 years later, things are a bit different.

State College attorney Joe Amendola is the one drawing up a master defense for Sandusky’s showdown in a Centre County courtroom to counter allegations from the state Attorney General’s Office that he’s a pedophile who sexually abused young boys for more than 10 years.

“This is the fight of Jerry Sandusky’s life,” Amendola said on a cold December morning outside the Centre County Courthouse after Sandusky waived his right to a preliminary hearing on the charges. “This goes beyond the Penn State-Miami game. ... This is the game of his life.”

Opening statements are scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. Monday in the courthouse in Bellefonte.

Senior Judge John Cleland, from McKean County, will preside.

“The big question is what the defense story will be, what they have to say regarding these allegations,” local attorney Bernard Cantorna said. “We haven’t heard that story in the media. There was no preliminary hearing, and since there has been a gag order, we don’t know. That’s the most intriguing aspect of Monday.”

Attorneys picked the jury in two days last week and came up with a group of 16 local residents — 12 jurors and four alternates. Ten of the 16 have Penn State ties, including eight who will deliberate on the verdict.

The jurors include a Penn State senior who’s from Penns Valley, a retired Penn State professor and a current one who once served on a committee with former university President Graham Spanier. Then there’s a young woman who works for a downtown State College property management company that rents apartments to Penn State students and a mother of a 6-year-old who said she understands that sometimes children make up stories.

Seven of the 12 chosen to deliberate are women. Five are men.

The jurors didn’t all give their ages, but five appeared to be in their 20s and 30s and seven are middle-aged or older.

All are white.

‘This is solid’

Jules Epstein, an expert in criminal defense who teaches at Widener University’s law school in Delaware, expects similar tactics from both the prosecution and the defense.

The prosecution will try to humanize the young men, while the defense will want to humanize Sandusky.

He expects the attorneys will preview some of their cases — “You never want to tell everything in an opening, but you want to tell enough to let people know this is solid,” he said.

The lead prosecutor in the case, Joseph E. McGettigan III, is expected to paint to the jurors a picture of Sandusky as a pedophile who used his stature in the community to gain access to young boys he abused.

McGettigan hasn’t shied away from lambasting Sandusky in public during news conferences. In April, the prosecutor said The Second Mile charity Sandusky founded was a “victim factory” through which he met young boys. He earned their trust, McGettigan argued, before sexually abusing them.

Prosecutors may be inclined to address parts of their case that may appear to be weak, Epstein said. For instance, there’s little, if any, physical evidence known, and the prosecution would tell the jury that’s the nature of cases like this.

“If a man rubs a boy’s genitals, what sort of physical evidence would you expect?” he said.

As for the elephant in the room — the effect of the case on Penn State — Epstein said prosecutors could address it either subtly or explicitly, but making sure the jury knows it’s not the issue at hand.

The defense doesn’t have to offer its opening statements right after the prosecution, but Epstein said he never deferred because he wanted the jury to hear his client’s side immediately.

“People tend to remember what they heard first, and people tend to take facts and reorganize facts into their own story frameworks,” Epstein said.

Amendola’s expected defense strategies will be to raise enough doubt in the jury’s mind to discredit the alleged victims’ testimony. Amendola made that abundantly clear during pleadings in the case.

“I assume here he’s going to say, ‘My client didn’t do this’ and that he’s going to be explaining that this is a case where people either made up these stories for financial reasons or psychologically got convinced of them,” Epstein said.

Amendola may present the criminal records of the alleged victims, one of whom he said has a robbery conviction. He also wanted medical records, like mental health evaluations or opinions from therapists, to see if the young men had suffered any behavioral issues before they met Sandusky.

To refute the prosecution’s portrayal of Sandusky as a pedophile, Amendola likely will call character witnesses to cast Sandusky in a positive light. Some of those could be Sandusky’s family.

The defense’s potential witness list has dozens of people.

Focus on alleged victims

The judge is expected to have testimony begin immediately after the opening statements.

The alleged victims, most of whom are in their 20s now, must give their names in open court after they take the stand. Some of their civil attorneys, and even national victims advocates, asked the judge to allow the use of pseudonyms so they can remain anonymous, but the judge denied those requests.

In response, four groups banded together and called on the media and the public to not reveal the names of the young men after they testify. The groups are National Center for Victims of Crime, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, National Crime Victim Law Institute and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

“Victims everywhere should know that their privacy will be respected when they come forward to reveal intimate details of sexual abuse,” the groups said in a joint statement this past week. “They participate in the criminal justice process in an effort to do the right thing and testify about their experiences; they should not have to worry about being publicly targeted when doing so.”

As a policy, the Centre Daily Times does not publish the names of alleged victims of sexual abuse.

There will be one mechanism in place at the courthouse to minimize the young men’s exposure to the public and the media.

Court Administrator Maxine Ishler said a canopy will be installed at the back entrance to shield them when they’re dropped off to testify.

‘Unprecedented’

Along with generating increased media attention on the area, the Sandusky case has forced some deviations from the normal day-to-day routine at the courthouse. It comes as the court is preparing for another high-profile case.

The crush of regional, state and national media attention likely will remain on downtown Bellefonte for the next few weeks. Some news organizations and their news trucks didn’t leave the courthouse after jury selection Wednesday even though it ended with a few days to spare before opening statements.

Starting Monday, the Prothonotary’s Office, the Public Defender office and Probation and Parole will have satellite offices at the Lewis Katz Building on Penn State’s campus. It’s intended to be an option for those people who may be inconvenienced by the attention on Bellefonte or lack of parking.

Penn State won’t ticket people who use the Katz Building parking lot for county court services.

Court officials also will have a high-profile trial going on next week.

The retrial of three men charged in a burglary spree that turned into a violent robbery spree is set to start June 18 in the Courthouse Annex, across the street from the courthouse and the gaggle of news reporters, their humming satellite trucks and the spotlight cast upon the case, the town and the university.

“This is unprecedented,” said State College criminal defense attorney Matthew McClenahen. “We’ve never had a case like this in Centre County and hopefully never will again.”

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT

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