Opinion

Their View: Michael Jackson’s lawyer thinks Sandusky case merits second look

Thomas Mesereau successfully defended pop singer Michael Jackson in his molestation case.
Thomas Mesereau successfully defended pop singer Michael Jackson in his molestation case. AP file photo

When I agreed to take over the defense of Michael Jackson against charges of child molestation, people thought I had lost my mind. Much of the public and the vast majority of the news media presumed that Jackson was guilty and that his defense was a lost cause.

Jackson, like Jerry Sandusky, was charged with horrific acts. Prosecutors claimed Jackson gave alcohol to a cancer-ravaged child to prepare him for multiple acts of molestation. They also presented evidence that Jackson had allegedly molested other victims. To solidify their claims, prosecutors tried to prove that Jackson had falsely imprisoned the victim’s family, abducted their children and made extortionate threats to stop any police investigation. Like in Sandusky, witnesses testified to sex acts in the shower and bedroom.

As it turned out, at trial the case against Jackson fell apart. He was rightly found not guilty and the despondent news media begrudgingly admitted defeat while quickly moving on to their next story.

Real criminal defense lawyers are skeptics. We don’t blindly accept conventional beliefs or public opinion.

If we did, many of our freedoms and civil liberties wouldn’t exist.

As a college football fan, I was both shocked and captivated by the developments surrounding Penn State’s football team in late 2011. A native of New Jersey, I loved Joe Paterno. Within days of the arrest of Jerry Sandusky and a suspiciously leaked grand jury presentment, both Paterno and university president Graham Spanier were fired without a hearing. This seemed wrong.

To an outsider, this dramatic act by Penn Staters who presumably knew them best seemed like a sign that Sandusky was obviously guilty and that the leaders of the Penn State community had suffered a complete moral collapse (though in an interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News , I expressed reservations about coming to such conclusions based on only a leaked grand jury report). Sandusky’s rapid conviction and the ensuing Freeh report appeared to confirm those presumptions.

However, since then, evidence has been evaluated in its full context and without the emotion attached to the original rush for vengeance. The notion that Penn State would put football ahead of the safety and welfare of young men is horrendous, but in this new light, significant and valid problems have been raised about the entire narrative of which the news media was so certain back in 2011.

Recently, the NCAA revoked all sanctions against Penn State and restored Paterno’s all-time wins and record. There seems little doubt that the NCAA would not have done this if it thought there was a significant chance that the three former Penn State administrators (who, remarkably still haven’t come close to a trial almost three years after Sandusky’s conviction) would be found guilty of having purposely covered up these crimes.

Credible voices now view the Freeh report with disdain and see its conclusions as, at best, unproven and, at worst, ludicrous. If there really was no cover-up, how did Sandusky possibly get away with these horrendous crimes for so long?

This entire case appears to be an all or nothing proposition. Because the only non-victim eyewitness in the entire case against Sandusky (a then-graduate assistant coach named Mike McQueary) apparently claimed in the grand jury to have heard/seen a rape, there are only two reasonable scenarios: either there was indeed a cover-up at Penn State, or McQueary’s story is not true.

Due to the extreme lack of ambiguity in that heinous accusation, it is seems impossible to believe that there was a miscommunication among so many people of such stature and accomplishment.

While I am not an expert on the case against Sandusky, I am informed that no actual victim testified to the McQueary allegation. Given the extreme amount of publicity that the story generated and the other unique circumstances of the case, it seems highly suspicious that no actual victim was found or ever came forward.

In the Michael Jackson trial, the prosecution was permitted to call witnesses who claimed to have seen children being molested. I called three of the actual purported victims who claimed they weren’t touched! I am skeptical of unsubstantiated third-party allegations like McQueary’s.

I recently was informed that there was actually a man who credibly claimed to be the person McQueary saw with Sandusky and that on the day Paterno was fired he gave a statement seemingly discrediting McQueary’s testimony. However, he never testified, apparently because both the prosecution and the defense feared what he would say. He did, I am informed, collect a substantial settlement from Penn State after the trial, while being represented by a lawyer who, I am also told, began representing Sandusky victims after this man’s statement (and who apparently handled civil cases for at least nine accusers).

I don’t know what really happened that night in 2001 (McQueary originally testified to the wrong date, month and year of the episode). I do however believe that the entire story as it was portrayed in the media doesn’t make sense. Even the jury, which convicted Sandusky on 45 counts, found him not guilty on the McQueary rape allegation.

It cannot be overstated how much, if the McQueary story is not true, this dramatically destroys the case against Paterno and Penn State. It also is potentially devastating to the case against Sandusky.

While the media and public have accepted that the sheer number of accusers against Sandusky is certain proof that he is guilty, if the McQueary episode didn’t happen the way we were originally told, then the original foundation for why all those accusers were immediately believed could completely erode.

Without McQueary, there appears to be no direct non-victim witness against Sandusky. That is particularly important in a case with zero physical evidence and not even one shred of pornography.

Without McQueary, all that really remains would be inconsistent testimony from men who ended up receiving (or are still pursuing) millions of dollars from Penn State.

Judging from the dramatic increase in grand jury activity following McQueary’s testimony, it is almost certain that investigators used McQueary’s story to convince new accusers to come forward. The prospect of huge financial settlements from Penn State looming from very early on in the case could have easily incentivized testimony in a way few, if any, cases like this have ever seen.

The Michael Jackson trial was littered with the testimony of people who had a financial incentive to exaggerate, embellish or worse. It was an embarrassment.

Given what I learned about molestation cases in the Jackson situation, I know how easily logic can be overwhelmed by the tidal wave of emotion they provoke. While there is no way for me to know what really happened between Sandusky and those boys, it seems clear that there is a rational scenario that is different than the public perception.

With the damage that was done to so many people by these allegations, doesn’t it make sense that our judicial system at least check the circumstances that led to that rapid verdict of public opinion back in 2011 especially if the media’s narrative of this entire case just doesn’t add up? Now that I understand Sandusky’s legal team is in the process of filing a Post-Conviction Relief Petition, maybe we should all give this case a second look.

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