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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jerry Sandusky's Defense: Digging Up Dirt on Accusers

     Former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, facing 52 counts of sexual molestation allegedly committed between 1994 and 2008, is scheduled to go on trial June 5, 2012. (He has requested a delay.) Defense attorney Joe Amendola, in a flurry of discovery requests, has sought detailed background information on 10 of the 68-year-old defendant's alleged victims. (So far, Sandusky has spent $200,000 on his defense. Compared to his final bill, this will be a drop in the bucket. I wouldn't be surprised if a group of rich football fans help pay his bill, even if he's convicted.)

     So, what kind of information is the Sandusky defense fishing for? And what do they hope to do with it? Basically, Amendola wants to know everything there is to know about his client's accusers. He's asking for, among other things, school transcripts, general medical data, psychiatric diagnoses, psychological reports, the accuser's IQs, SAT scores, Internet search histories, Facebook account details, employment records, financial data, and cellphone and Twitter information. This massive invasion of privacy would have impressed J. Edgar Hoover. (All of this private information will be available to Sandusky as well.)

     Attorney Amendola, in justifying his voracious hunger for all of this personal data, cites his client's right to paint his accusers as liars. (He doesn't say it like that, but that is what this is all about.) It's not clear to me how any of this information sheds light on an accuser's credibility on the specific issue of whether or not he was molested by the coach. Attorneys representing Sandusky's accusers believe that Amendola is abusing his subpoena power. They believe Amendola's intent is to intimidate, embarrass, discourage, humiliate, and otherwise punish Sandusky's accusers.

     Michael J. Boni, an attorney representing one of the alleged victims, has called Amendola's discovery methodology "a despicable act of cowardice." Boni told reporters that "The evidence he [Amendola] seeks from school records, labor records, etc., all inarguably go to reputation, which is not relevant or admissible in rape cases. Talk about adding insult to injury. First the boy was raped, now Amendola seeks to besmirch [his] character in the press, no doubt to taint the jury pool. It's all so wrong."

     Our criminal justice system, because it's adversarial, and focused on defendant rights, is hard on victims generally, and is particularly brutal on people who file allegations of sexual abuse. These cases often boil down to who jurors believe, the accuser or the defendant. Since the defendant is presumed innocent, the accuser has the burden of proving guilt. In this system, even the slightest bit of information that might cast doubt on the accuser's reputation, motive, or credibility, can destroy a prosecutor's case.

     Victims of sexual abuse, unlike people who have been robbed or have had their cars stolen, are often embarrassed by the crime. This is particularly true in pedophile cases where, under the best of circumstances, it is difficult for victims to come forward. The added potential of having one's personal life opened up like a book, makes coming forward even more difficult.

     In the Sandusky case, in my opinion, the defense attorney is saying this to the ex-coach's accusers: You can accuse my client, but if you do, you will pay a price.

     No matter how much dirt Amendola digs up, there is strength in numbers. All of these accusers can't be lying, and if the jury believes just one of them, Sandusky will be off to prison.   

5 comments:

  1. Well, not really. Most of the 'accusations' are accusations of innocent contact.

    Two of them are more serious (victim 1 and victim 4).

    If neither of those two are believed, it would mean JS actually is innocent. BTW why does that possibility not figure anywhere in your analysis?

    Strange.

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    1. If the jury decides not to believe any of these accusations, Jerry Sandusky will be acquitted, and under the law, presumed innocent. That would not preclude the possibility of sexual molestation. Regardless of the outcome of this case, there will people convinced he is innocent, and people convinced he is a pedophile.

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  2. Me again. Thx for posting even though I disagreed with your final paragraph.

    Here is another point: It must be easy, really, to decide the truth between two such opposite possibilities (hundreds of sexual contacts occuring, or none). But it is an issue that has deep political and moral dimensions too.

    People such as the PR guys hired by Penn State focus on appearances. The case shouldn't be about appearances and impressions, or about who gets convinced. There is a clear underlying truth, it is one way or the other, and we should really hope that whatever it is agrees with what the jury decides.

    One issue is, should a person be condemned just because things like nakedness or close contact with a non biological child are felt to be repellent to jurors?

    There should first be a clear def'n of what is abuse. If the definition means sexual contact (not nakedness, not a warm shower, not hugging) then most of the accusations are irrelevant, as they do not include direct sexual contact.

    Secondly, the question of whether such contact occurred or not is a question of fact, presumably there are experts who can distinguish between on the one hand lying for financial gain etc, versus on the other hand what is a known type of crime that only is committed by people with a particular psychiatric disorder.

    A difficulty is that there can be deals a prosecutor makes, to get testimony to convict someone in return for amnesty for other crimes. It really does have to be determined if any of the victims were facing charges. It really does need to be determined if any were not actually saying sexual contact occurred, but just signing a transcript where they really said 'yeah, yeah, yeah,.....' to wahtever prosecutors were asking, etc.

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  3. Actually, I see that you're a published author and former investigator. That means you already knew the things I was saying, and more.


    And that your comment 'there will always be people convinced he's guilty and always be people convinced he's innocent' was just to make us unthinking public wonder a bit if there actually is any concept of objective truth in this case.

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  4. Yes. In the Sandusky case, the outcome of the trial will have real meaning for the defendant and his accusers. It will not however, produce, for a lot of people with strong opinions going in, with objective truth. Was Michael Jackson a pedophile? Was O. J. innocent? Did Bruno Hauptmann kidnap and murder the Lindbergh baby? As a method of fact finding, the trial process, with its rules of evidence and so forth, is inadequate, and unreliable. But trials are less about truth than they are justice.

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