Sandusky Trial Forces Community to Confront Scandal Amidst Healing
It was 20 hours before jury selection was scheduled to start in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case, and Jonelle Eshbach and a team of prosecutors were munching down lunch Monday at the table adjacent to one of the causalities of the scandal that brought down Penn State’s patriarch and swallowed up life on campus like a tsunami.
This was the last day of peacetime. Neither said a word to each other. Neither probably knew who the other was, and really, none of it matters. What happened, happened.
Penn State and State College are in healing mode and have been for months since four top university administrators were ousted, including Joe Paterno, the face of Penn State who passed away Jan. 22 because of complications from lung cancer treatments.
But now it’s time for a checkup. It’s time to peel off the Band-Aid and re-expose the wounds. It’s time for this community to revisit and confront the harsh truth of what allegedly went on in its own hotels, its own neighborhoods, its own buildings, its own swimming pools.
There is no talking around it. Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of raping young boys. He is accused of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. Repeatedly.
Exactly seven months since the Attorney General’s office dropped a 23-page atomic bomb on the idyllic college campus, outlining allegation after allegation in horrific detail, we are here, a courthouse straddling the steep hill at the heart of a nearby, quaint Victorian town called Bellefonte.
“We knew it was coming,” said State College Borough Council President Don Hahn. “So it’s not unanticipated. The way a bomb was dropped on us back in November, that was more surprising. This one we have time to plan for it. It’s been a rough several months, but we’re rather anxious to see justice done and to be able to move on.”
Let’s assume there will be a trial — Judge John M. Cleland has yet to rule on whether or not to throw out all 52 charges against Sandusky. Let’s also assume this trial kicks off Monday with opening statements and testimony, as Cleland hopes is the case, provided 12 jurors, be them from Centre County or not, are found to be able to hear all sides of the evidence and fairly rule without bias.
Ben Andreozzi, the Harrisburg-based lawyer who represents the man known to the world only as alleged victim No. 4, is counting on it.
He said he expects his client to be the first to testify against Sandusky, the retired Penn State defensive coordinator who he met through The Second Mile charity, which, depending on who you listen to, was founded in 1977 to serve underprivileged youth or, as lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan put it, as “an assembly factory for adolescent children to be abused, sodomized [and] anally raped.”
“To a certain extent he’s so ready to put this tragic situation in the rearview mirror,” Andreozzi said of his client, now in his late 20s. “He’s looking forward to just getting it over with.”
As many as eight alleged victims are expected to testify against Sandusky, ending years of public silence. Monday, Cleland denied motions from five of the men — including alleged victim No. 4 — that they be allowed to use pseudonyms when taking the stand.
“While I will make every effort to be sensitive to the nature of the alleged victims’ testimony, once the trial begins the veil must be lifted,” Cleland wrote. “Arguably, any victim of any crime would prefer not to appear in court, not to be subjected to cross-examination, not to have his or her credibility evaluated by a jury — not to put his name and reputation at stake.
“But we ask citizens to do that every day in courts across the nation.”
Andreozzi’s client was disappointed, he said, but it would not dissuade him from telling his story to the world.
“It’s almost like a scarlet letter,” Andreozzi said. “Their names are going to carry it with it for the rest of their lives. They don’t want to be known as Jerry Sandusky’s victims. They want to be known as fathers, husbands and contributors to society.”
This father, husband and Pittsburgh-based civil lawyer asked that his name not be given. He is a 1972 Penn State graduate who frequently spoke with his three children about the events seven months ago at his alma mater that has spent close to $10 million in legal, consulting and public relations fees since November's indictments.
The hardest to cope with it has been his youngest son, a 2009 Penn State graduate. He does not want to share why the ordeal has been so difficult. Multiple factors are involved, the only certain ones being his love for the university and the fall of Paterno.
A copy of USA Today is cast off to the side of his chili, sandwich and glass of Coke at a downtown deli. He has not followed the case too closely, but close enough to know that jury selection starts Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.
“I don’t know that you always will necessarily ever get the truth because what’s presentable at a trial, each side is going to be presenting its evidence in the light most favorable to their client,” he said.
“I would hope if he did wrong he’s held accountable for it. I think that at the same time the burden of proof is on the prosecution. I don’t go into it with necessarily the thought this is just a pro forma thing that he’s gonna be found guilty.
“I don’t know.”
Anxiety builds, day-to-day, like a runaway train heading somewhere unknown, accusers, attorneys, Sandusky, a university, a borough, linked once more, unable to stop it.