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Adam Smeltz: As Credibility Gains Spotlight, Remember Origins of Sandusky Case

on March 19, 2012 7:40 AM

With its latest filing Friday, the Jerry Sandusky defense team appears primed to turn the sexual abuse case into a test of credibility.

Lead defense attorney Joseph Amendola already has sought mental-health records on the reported victims. Now he is saying that several used drugs and alcohol in past years, as my colleague Nate Mink reported Friday.

Amendola refers to the young people in the case as "accusers," avoiding the "alleged victim" terminology used often by reporters. And he has suggested that most reporters probably think Sandusky is guilty, casting doubt on the credibility of news coverage, too.

In this crush of attention to credibility, here's something worth noting -- and remembering:

The young men listed as victims did not initiate this legal action themselves. By all accounts, they did not seek out law enforcement to ask for an investigation.

Rather, the law came to them. The law asked for their cooperation.

As lead state prosecutor Joseph McGettigan said in court last week, these youths were not enthusiastic about stepping forward to participate in the legal action. In most cases, their silence had continued for years after their reported abuse ended, McGettigan said.

Many of them were troubled to begin with, facing psychological problems that made them susceptible to victimization, he told presiding Judge John M. Cleland.

Amendola has raised, of course, the question of whether the youths communicated with one another after the investigation of Sandusky began. He wants their addresses and phone numbers to help him find a definitive answer. The implication is clear: Maybe they colluded; maybe they have something to hide; maybe they want something.

Cleland, as of early Monday morning, had yet to rule on the latest defense request.

Whatever happens in the coming months, no matter whether the case actually lands at trial, this will be a trying period. Legal duels almost certainly will persist. Emotions will rise.

For reporters assigned to the case, keeping a focus on context and fairness will be key. Again: Amendola has said we -- most reporters -- probably already believe Sandusky is guilty.

Truth is, the defense side has been notably accessible to reporters since this ordeal began in November. The defense side has been heavily represented in news coverage throughout, due in large part to that accessibility.

The prosecution has been far less boisterous about making its case via reporters -- and that, it appears, is by design. After all, it was McGettigan himself who told us last week that he would not litigate through the news media.

But that doesn't mean we have any less of an obligation to reiterate, time and again, the context identified by prosecutors. We can't let accessibility determine whose side is more clearly or abundantly represented in the coverage.

And we can't forget how this case did -- and didn't -- begin.

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