Jerry Sandusky had his day in court on Friday.
The retired Penn State football coach and founder of The Second Mile children’s charity never took the stand at the 2012 trial where he was convicted of 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse crimes. That was one of the main points when he did finally answer questions in a Post Conviction Collateral Relief Act hearing.
Sandusky is seeking a new trial. He has maintained his innocence for almost five years, since his arrest in 2011.
His testimony was often emotional ranging from smiles and laughter entering the court to animated frustration when asked questions about his preliminary hearing, his criminal trial and about Matt Sandusky, who he and wife, Dottie, adopted at the age of 18 and who flipped sides during the trial, now claiming he was abused. Sandusky called Matt his “former son.”
Attorney Al Lindsay started the questions with the obvious: Did he molest young boys?
“Absolutely not!” Sandusky said loudly.
He not only denied the kind of sexual activity described in his court cases with boys he met through The Second Mile, but denied ever engaging in anal or oral sex at all, reacting angrily and calling it “disgusting” and “dirty,” and saying he had only ever had a relationship with his wife.
Former attorney Joe Amendola testified that he still believed in Sandusky’s innocence.
The heart of Sandusky’s PCRA petition is that he had ineffective counsel from Amendola and attorney Karl Rominger.
Sandusky testified to alleged errors by Amendola, including having the former Penn State defensive coordinator do his infamous interview with Bob Costas. Sandusky called himself “naive” and said he trusted his attorney.
“I know a lot more now,” he said.
“It was a golden opportunity,” Amendola said of the Costas interview, where a hesitation in a question about being sexually attracted to young boys became a smoking gun in public opinion.
Sandusky said in his testimony that he found out he would be speaking with Costas about 15 minutes before the interview. Amendola said it was a little longer, about half an hour or so, but the interview was supposed to just be with him, not his client.
So he went to New York. But while there for the show, Amendola said, things changed.
“Everybody, everybody who came up to me was saying, ‘Your client is guilty as heck,’ ” he said.
Sandusky, he was told by media experts, was more hated than Adolf Hitler, and the interview was a chance to change that.
“What I said to Jerry was, this was an opportunity for him to tell the world, because I knew there would be millions of watchers, that he was innocent,” Amendola testified. “That was the bottom line, that he didn’t need to answer other questions.”
But Amendola admitted he didn’t prepare Sandusky for anything other than repeating his innocence and saying it would be proven at trial.
He also didn’t mention that the interview could be used at trial by the prosecution, which it was.
“We used it too,” he said, noting that when Sandusky did not testify, the tape became useful to introduce statements of his innocence.
Lindsay says Sandusky should have had a preliminary hearing, and Rominger agreed. A preliminary hearing is the part of the criminal legal process where the prosecution lays out the basics of the case and a district judge decides if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
In his testimony, Sandusky said he didn’t understand the process and relied on his attorneys’ guidance. Rominger assisted Amendola in the criminal case and said that he argued for a hearing rather than waiving it.
“I wrote an article, ‘Don’t Waive Your Preliminary Hearing,’ ” he said.
While he detailed several reasons that he felt a preliminary hearing should have been held, Amendola said he didn’t raise those beforehand. Amendola argued that he made his recommendations based on the threat of having more charges added to Sandusky’s case and higher bail sought.
“It was critical to keep Jerry out of jail,” Amendola said.
Rominger has since pleaded guilty to tax evasion and is no longer a practicing attorney.
Sandusky’s PCRA hearings continue Aug. 22-23.