BELLEFONTE, Pa. — After a gripping, emotionally charged four days of testimony that saw eight men ranging in age from 18 to 28 tell jurors that Jerry Sandusky sexually abused them as children, the former Penn State assistant football coach soon will get to tell his side of the story.
Mr. Sandusky himself could take the stand in his own defense at his criminal trial, but it’s not certain that will happen.
During his first remarks to jurors, his attorney Joe Amendola suggested he might, though the jury already has heard an audio recording of a stilted television interview Mr. Sandusky conducted shortly after his November arrest, denying the accusations against him.
Mr. Amendola’s opening statement, court documents and four days of witness cross-examination provide something of a road map to the defense’s strategy, which has been aimed at creating enough doubt in jurors’ minds to avoid a conviction that could send Mr. Sandusky to prison for life.
The defense has sought to show how the stories of accusers have changed over time - that they were prodded and coached by investigators and prosecutors, that some are motivated to lie by the hopes of a civil lawsuit jackpot - and to paint Mr. Sandusky’s interactions with children as part of a lifelong effort to help, rather than victimize them.
Lawyers pursuing a credibility defense try to give jurors reasons to disbelieve the narrative presented by prosecutors, and a financial gain motive or a changing story can be part of that, said University of Pittsburgh law professor David A. Harris.
“This is all standard procedure for building a ‘reasonable doubt’ defense,” said Mr. Harris, who has worked as a defense attorney and prosecutor. “What they don’t have here is any way to say, ‘OK, these kids have been molested, but somebody else did it.’ “
The first four days of testimony, however, may already have cast the die, if jurors have made up their minds about the credibility of the eight accusers, six without a father in their lives, three who have never known their fathers. That doesn’t mean they can’t be swayed by defense evidence, and the judge will caution them to keep an open mind, Mr. Harris said.
“But what we’re talking about is human nature here, and people have heard a lot already,” he said.
In a recent court filing, Mr. Sandusky’s attorneys have asked the judge to allow them to put before jurors the out-of-court statements made by the former Penn State President Graham Spanier and Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, two university administrators who are fighting criminal charges saying they lied to the Sandusky grand jury and did not properly report suspected child abuse.
If permitted, that could help Mr. Sandusky undercut the credibility of a witness who says he saw Mr. Sandusky sexually abusing a yet-unidentified boy in a team shower more than a decade ago. The judge has not ruled on the request.
The defense also wants Judge John Cleland to allow into evidence the entire contents of “Touched,” Mr. Sandusky’s autobiography, saying in a court motion that the entire book would “contextualize the quotes and avoid misleading characterizations,” although so far prosecutors have used the book mainly as a source of photos.