Eight accusers, 51 counts. Endless witnesses all attesting to very similar and horrific things.
In cases like the one brought against Jerry Sandusky, how does one defend themselves from not only a mountain of evidence but also a conviction and death sentence in the court of public opinion?
Specifically, it looks as if the Sandusky defense team is dealing as best they can with what they have. That isn't much.
In Sandusky's case 51 horrific acts have been alleged. Considering the nature of the allegations, the criminal defense lawyer has to tread lightly in cross examining not just the alleged victims, but every witness taking the stand on behalf of the State. Push too hard and you alienate the jury and they shut you out. Go too lightly and your points aren't made. Thus, cross examination has to be very concise, quick, and in a tone that is not offensive. So far it appears as if the strategy is to impeach testimony via inconsistencies in dates, failure to report closely in time to the alleged abuse, and an alleged monetary interest via a civil lawsuit against both Sandusky and Penn State University. Sandusky's glaring problem is impeaching not one, not two, but eight accusers who detail horrific acts against them at the hands of Sandusky, all in a similar fashion and demographic. Think power in numbers with respect to persuasive power.
Regardless of inconsistency in testimony from one incident to the other or a failure to come forward immediately after the fact, I am hard pressed to believe a jury will consider either to establish reasonable doubt. To the advantage of the defense, Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not allow expert testimony in cases involving rape and sexual abuse. Due to this prohibition, the State of Pennsylvania will not be allowed to put on expert witness testimony to explain any kind of emotional suppression the victims had or how this kind of trauma would affect their judgment. Stated otherwise, the State can't scientifically explain away odd reactions by the alleged victims.
At the end of the day, poking holes in inconsistent stories or failure to report these crimes in a certain amount of time isn't going to get very far with a reasonable jury. The jury will simply want more of an explanation for why the allegations are false, and that is seemingly nonexistent in this case.
With respect to the monetary interest of the alleged victims and the fact that many have retained civil lawyers, this isn't going to be the golden goose either. I get phone calls every week from individuals wishing to retain my services regardless of necessity, simply because that person wants to ensure they are protected as much as possible from a legal standpoint. Though there could be a financial settlement when the dust settles, due to the volume of accusers I don't see a jury finding these actions to create reasonable doubt.
Sandusky's lawyers are now putting their case on after the State has finished theirs with the exception of rebuttal witnesses. Thus far there have been other coaches and individuals at football camps run by Sandusky's charitable organization who have proclaimed to be in the shower with all parties and saw no inappropriate behavior. There has been reputation testimony that paints Sandusky in a saintly light, stark in contrast to the allegations against him.
Ultimately there will be expert psychological testimony asserting that Sandusky suffers from histrionic personality disorder, a disorder that the National Institutes of Health says causes people to act in very emotional and dramatic ways that draw attention to themselves. This evidence may be an attempt to explain away the allegations of Sandusky being overly touchy-feely and to explain inappropriate material written in letters by Sandusky.
Collaterally, this could be an attempt to put on evidence at trial that could aid in mitigation at sentencing, albeit unlikely considering Sandusky's age and sentencing prospects. At the end of the day, none of the testifying coaches can say unequivocally that the allegations against Jerry Sandusky are false. With respect to the personality disorder, traditionally this has not been linked to sexual abuse and no doubt a good prosecutor will jump up and down on this point.
As a general rule, if I have to explain away more than 3 major and material negatives in a fact pattern at trial, I advise my client to accept a favorable deal if offered by the State Attorney. Juries don't want to hear nonsense, and as a rule common sense explanations for or against an allegation will carry the day.
Sandusky faces a mountain of evidence with no common sense way to overcome it. His lawyers are faced with the task of mounting a defense with terrible facts and without much choice considering the alternative would be a plea effectively putting their client in prison for life. In reality, Sandusky has a terrible case for trial. His lawyers will mount a defense but they won't have a very good one.
Jason Mayberry is an attorney located in Clearwater and practicing throughout the Tampa Bay area. Our practice focuses on Federal and State criminal defense, personal injury and medical malpractice, and family law. Thank you for reading our blog and if you have questions or are in need of an attorney, please do not hesitate to call us at 727-771-3847 or visit us at mayberryfirm.com.