Inside the Courtroom for Jerry Sandusky’s Sentencing

Story posted October 11, 2012 in News, CommRadio by Patrick Woo

Across the aisle to my left, a middle-aged woman sat scoffing at every word spoken by former-Penn State assistant football coach and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky was to be sentenced for his crimes, facing hundreds of years in prison. He was noticeably skinnier and looked frail. Most see him as a monster. But in the courtroom on that day, he looked much more human.

From the day of his arrest, Sandusky has maintained his innocence. Even after his conviction, he has not wavered in proclaiming that he was wrongly accused. Justice has been served. This child-preying monster has been sentenced to 30-60 years in prison, essentially a life sentence.

This was a man who had done so much good in life, as Judge John Cleland pointed out. But “it’s the remarkable ability to deceive that makes these crimes so heinous,” he said.

Sandusky’s lawyers will file an appeal, but the Sandusky chapter is essentially over. He will be behind bars for the rest of his life as he writes a tell-all book in his prison cell. Maybe the truth will come out in those books.

I talked to people who still have doubt – that say the Jerry Sandusky they knew would never do this. There are people who really believe he is innocent, but doubt exists.

***

“I feel a need to talk – not for arrogance but for my heart,” Sandusky began.

That was why the courthouse was filled to capacity, why this case had drawn so much attention. To the national media, this may have been about Penn State. But to the locals in State College, where Sandusky still resided even as the trial went on, and the rest of Centre County, this was about Jerry Sandusky and his heart.

We arrived at the courthouse shortly after midnight. There were dozens of news vans parked along the streets. There were no people, just darkness and quiet. It was the proverbial calm before the storm. The first news crew turned its lights on about three hours after we had arrived.

Around 1 a.m., the first local resident arrived. She had missed the last day of the trial because she was late and didn’t want to miss the sentencing, she said. We asked her why.

“You get things being in the courtroom that you don’t get from reading the newspaper,” she said.

For about an hour, we talked with this woman. She told stories of how Joe Paterno is not as bad as he was made out to be and how no one saw this coming with Jerry Sandusky. Those were the typical answers you received from talking to local residents, especially those that knew Jerry.

We had heard many previous stories about locals knowing Sandusky but shared the story of her friend, who went to church with the Sandusky family. She talked about how much of a gentleman Sandusky always was.

We know this about Jerry Sandusky: he made an impact in the lives of young people. He was a strong member of the community and his Second Mile charity foundation helped so many children improve their lives. We were told Sandusky was always great with kids.

She told us that she would often think to herself, “What if he didn’t do these things to those children?” This thought has to have crossed more minds than we can imagine. There are people who firmly believe that Sandusky did not commit these crimes, but the overwhelming evidences says that they are all wrong. All around us are those that hate, that wish the worst for Sandusky. Any positivity towards his life has been seen as an endorsement of child molestation. Those who spoke in support were shunned. Now, they stay quiet.

The general belief, and perhaps the correct belief, is that Sandusky is a serial child predator and groomed his victims with a monstrous imagination of what he would do next.

“They could make me out as a monster,” Sandusky said in his statement. “They could treat me as a monster, but they can’t take away my heart. In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts.”

Sandusky was defiant to the end. He did not commit these crimes, he claims. Many think he is mentally sick, some think he is the ultimate evil and using his final words to continue to enact pain on his victims. But there is also a segment that has the doubt.

“If ten people say something, it must be true, right?” Sandusky’s lawyer Karl Rominger said. Rominger explained the case of Michaels v. New Jersey where 60 students said they were molested and the man was acquitted.

Sandusky suggested a conspiracy against him. That seems farfetched. But it brings to the surface the question of “What if?” It’s a question often thought about in many circumstances.

Since his arrest, the lack of emotion displayed by Sandusky was a big talking point. He seemed to accept everything that had happened to him, good or bad. But during his final statement before the court, in which he spoke for about 15 minutes, he finally showed emotion. His back was turned to where we sat but his voice cracked and he appeared to cry. He spoke about how he will miss the contact with his loved ones – his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his friends and his dog.

That same lady sitting to my left smirked at Sandusky’s emotion. She was not buying it.

In his statement, Sandusky only proclaimed his innocence. He did not state why he was innocent, he did not address the victims or try to dissect their claims. He only spoke of how blessed his life had been and reminded every in the room how much good he has done in his life.

It was a good reminder. As we’ve seen at Penn State, the good is easily forgotten. But is all the good that one man has done in his life enough to doubt that he could do no heinous wrong?

Sandusky spoke about the pain and suffering that he has endured due to this entire scandal. He spoke about his faith in God to lead him through these difficult times. Sandusky accomplished what he wanted to do in his statement, he wanted to appear human.

“Today is a difficult day, I’m being labeled and sentenced,” he said earlier in his statement.

He wanted to shed the label. He wanted to show he is not a monster but that he is human. He showed it. But no one believes him. The monster that is Jerry Sandusky will wither away in prison.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph McGettigan read painfully emotional statements from one of the victims and a victim’s mother. Three victims were present and found the courage to stand up and speak against the man who caused so much pain in their ruined lives. Only Victim 7 addressed Sandusky directly.

“You were the person in my life that was supposed to be a role model,” he said, staring into Sandusky’s eyes. Sandusky did not meet the boy’s stare with his own.

Looking around the courtroom, you saw the disgust on people’s faces, the tears flowing on the face of the woman sitting in front of me while the victims spoke of their horrors.

Victim 7 was the last to speak before the 68-year-old Sandusky took the stand wearing a red jumpsuit with ‘CENTRE COUNTY’ printed on the back.

Individuals in the crowd tilted left and right trying to see past heads to get a glimpse of Sandusky. Some wanted to see him show remorse. He didn’t.

Court adjourned at 10:22 a.m. and two victims embraced and smiled together to my left. To my right, Sandusky’s wife Dottie was being comforted by her family and friends.

As Sandusky was led out of the courtroom, he smiled and blew a kiss towards Dottie.

Patrick Woo is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism and is a ComRadio Sports Director. To contact him, email pww5053@psu.edu.