This week marked the beginning of the criminal trial involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
The prosecution called 10 witnesses in the first four days and is expected to rest on Monday.
The prosecution’s theory rests heavily on the fact that, at trial, each of the alleged victims described a fairly consistent pattern of abuse. Despite the emotional and sometimes tear-filled testimony of several of the accusers, Sandusky’s defense team has been able to expose flaws in their credibility. On cross-examination, defense attorney Joe Amendola pointed out many significant inconsistencies between the accusers’ testimony at trial versus the statements they had previously made to the grand jury, law enforcement officers and social workers. Some of the accusers were unable to recall when and where some of the alleged abuse occurred. Some of them provided dates of alleged incidents that varied by years from previous statements.
While on the stand this week, one accuser alleged Sandusky “groped” him in the shower in the Penn State locker room as well as while spending the night in the Sandusky basement. Less than a year earlier, however, the same accuser told a grand jury that Sandusky had not touched him in the shower. When questioned by the defense as to why his story had changed, the young man said that he has been “able to remember a lot more” since beginning therapy in 2011.
One accuser alleged that he screamed for help while Sandusky sexually abused him in his basement. Dottie Sandusky, the defendant’s wife, was supposedly right upstairs at the time of this incident. The accuser testified that the basement “must have been soundproof.” We would anticipate testimony this week from Dottie to refute these claims.
The defense also suggested that the discrepancies in the accusers’ versions of events can be explained by attempts to coordinate their stories. On the stand, one accuser admitted that he knew at least two other accusers. Also, defense attorneys have emphasized that six of the accusers have hired private attorneys which would indicate that they are planning to file civil lawsuits against Penn State in the hopes of winning a lucrative settlement as a result of this case.
By zeroing in on the numerous inconsistent statements, as well as potential improper financial motives, the defense is hopeful that jurors may begin to question the credibility of the accusers. The prosecution likely recognizes this but is confident that with “strength in numbers” the jury will focus less on the individual credibility of the accusers and more on the overall credibility of them as a group.
As the defense will likely begin to present its case on Monday, it will be interesting to see what witnesses they call and whether Sandusky does, in fact, elect to testify. On Friday, the judge ruled that the defense could call its expert on histrionic personality disorder to testify that Sandusky’s conduct (in particular, the writing of “love letters” to some of the accusers) is consistent with someone who suffers from that illness. The only issue is that, if they choose to do so, the judge has ordered that Sandusky will have to make himself available to the prosecution so that he can be evaluated by their own expert. I would think that, in light of this ruling, the defense will be extremely reluctant to call the expert to testify.
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