(STATE COLLEGE, Pa.) — When former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 52 counts of child sex abuse late last year, the sheer quantity of allegations and accusers made it seem like Sandusky faced an insurmountable problem in avoiding a conviction.
On Monday, however, the state of Pennsylvania will face the burden of proof as the Sandusky trial officially begins and prosecutors try to convince a jury that Sandusky, beyond a reasonable doubt, molested 10 boys. The holes in their case, and the ways in which defense attorney Joseph Amendola exploits them, will be the focus for the jury.
“It’s generally thought that it is the sheer numbers that are the biggest problem that Sandusky is going to have,” said Scott Coffina, a Philadelphia-based attorney who has followed the case. “But these are largely dated accusations, and the type of people Sandusky came in contact with had problems in their lives, that’s why they came in contact with him. All of these things will affect the cross examination of these guys.”
Sandusky was arrested in November 2011, following a three-year grand jury investigation into allegations of sexual abuse sparked by a high school freshman in 2008 who claimed he was molested by the former coach. Now, eight victims are expected to testify during the trial, claiming that they were “groomed” by Sandusky through his charity, The Second Mile, and then molested by him in his home and around the Penn State campus.
To counter their allegations, Amendola will go after the credibility and motive of the accusers, questioning their personal histories, any criminal pasts, troubled upbringing, and the possibility that the men colluded to make money off a famous and well-connected football coach.
“To the extent that any of these now young men has filed a lawsuit for monetary damages, that is a fact the defense is allowed to bring up. It is the bias defense, i.e. the ‘you’re in it for the money’ approach,” said Jules Epstein, a law professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania.
Epstein said that Amendola could go after at least four weaknesses in the victims’ testimony: the delay between when they were allegedly molested and when they were reported, the apparent inconsistency between being abused and remaining friendly with the abuser, the possibility of an ulterior motive for bringing charges now, and the vague dates of when the alleged assaults occurred.
Amendola confirmed to ABC News in November that he would go after the credibility of the alleged victims, including Victim 1, whom Amendola said had changed his story because of pampering from the prosecution, as well as Victim 4, whom Amendola said remained friends with Sandusky until recently.
In addition to going after the credibility of the victims, the question of credibility may focus heavily on the prosecution’s star witness, assistant football coach Mike McQueary.
McQueary testified to a grand jury that in March 2002 he saw Sandusky raping a young boy, about age 10, in the showers of the football team’s locker rooms. In the grand jury presentment, the act is described as “anal rape.”
However, during a court hearing earlier this year, McQueary backed off that statement, instead describing what he saw as “extremely sexual,” with Sandusky’s hands wrapped around the boy’s waist as the boy was pressed up against the shower wall. He said he heard “rhythmic slapping sounds,” but did not see insertion and could not be certain that it was anal rape.
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