Almost two years ago, a jury in Bellefonte, Pa., listened to eight days of evidence and testimony, much of it from eight boys turned men who fought through tears and suppressed anger to deliver emotional, first-hand accounts of being sexually assaulted at the hands of Jerry Sandusky.
The jurors poured through everything, including defense arguments and cross-examinations, for a day and a half and finally declared Sandusky guilty of 45 counts of various degrees of abuse. Sandusky, now 70, was sentenced to 30 to 60 years behind bars.
An appeal by Sandusky for a new trial went nowhere and an appeal of that appeal is, legal experts believe, likely to find the same fate. Meanwhile, Sandusky sits isolated for 23 hours a day in a Western Pennsylvania prison cell, running out the clock on his sorry life.
Sadly, that hasn't stopped his family's ability to continue to attack his victims.
On Tuesday, NBC's "Today" show sent Matt Lauer to State College to give Dottie Sandusky, Jerry's wife, a nationally broadcasted forum. It allowed her, without too much counterpoint, to accuse her husband's prey of actually being the ones who committed heinous crimes.
Dottie didn't just say she still believed in Jerry's innocence. She went further, essentially declaring the victims told made-up stories of abuse that destroyed her husband because the victims were dumb enough to be tricked by lawyers and investigators and were motivated by the promise of personal financial gain from possible civil suits.
"They were manipulated, and they saw money,'' Dottie said. "Once lawyers came into the case, they said there was money."
That would be nasty stuff if it were true – falsely accusing a man of sexual abuse just to get paid? That's pure evil. According to Dottie, these aren't victims, but heartless perjurers, criminals themselves.
And what was her basis for firing off such a vicious accusation? What evidence did she provide after making such a serious claim?
None. There was none. Dottie offered no proof that such a thing actually happened. She provided nothing to back up her theory. No emails, no overheard conversations, no confessions that they just did it for the cash. Nothing.
It was all just her opinion, her theory the truly horrible person in this entire pathetic saga isn't her husband.
NBC didn't offer an expert, either legal or from a victim's rights group, to paint this as a delusional conspiracy that runs contrary to basic standard of common sense and the timeline of the state's three-year investigation into her husband.
First off, not all of the victims had civil lawyers when they first told authorities what Jerry Sandusky did to them, so it wasn't attorneys pushing every accusation.
Even for the victims who did understandably use representation to navigate a major investigation, grand jury and complex criminal proceedings, it would be ridiculous to assume they saw a big payday at the start.
Many of these crimes occurred after Sandusky was retired as a Penn State coach. Many others took place away from campus. Why would anyone think they could one day sue Penn State?
Legally, employers are not responsible for the actions of their employees. In this case Penn State, or The Second Mile charity, would only be susceptible to a civil suit if it knew Sandusky was abusing children and did nothing to stop it. (That's the basis for the $60 million in settlements the school has since doled out to about two-dozen of Sandusky's victims. TSM has paid nothing and has been effectively defunct and broke since Sandusky’s arrest.)
Penn State's involvement in this – specifically the alleged knowledge by administrators of previous accusations – was unknown to the majority of the victims when they took the stand against Sandusky at the time of their grand jury testimony.
Only Victims No. 9 and No. 10 became involved in the case after the original indictments, which included school officials. They were the only ones fully aware of the university's possible culpability and thus could have even imagined the deep-pocketed school might be a viable civil target. Not that there is any proof they did. Regardless, Sandusky was already charged by then.
For all the others, the ones who worked with investigators and testified prior to the fall of 2011, the most reasonable possible target would've been Jerry Sandusky himself, a man of limited means, essentially living off his state pension. Simply put, there was no money to go after.
So for Dottie's theory to be true, one would have to believe that a slew of otherwise reputable attorneys from across Pennsylvania all independently decided to risk their own livelihoods through disbarment by instructing their clients to lie to the police and perjure themselves to a grand jury, thus risking felony charges for the victims, just so they could one day possibly sue a man who had almost no money.
This is nonsense, of course, a reach from a wife desperate to find a path to innocence for her husband.
NBC didn't have any experts to counter any of that.
Dottie sat there and claimed the bad people here are actually those kids that – as even she admits – her husband kept hugging while they were naked in the showers, even years after the cops told him to stop hugging naked kids in the shower.
It's the boys who were greedy. It's not the "tickle monster." It's not the purveyor of soap battles. It's not the guy who had a habit of playing with kids in the pool and having his hand conveniently slip and "accidently" grope them.
It's not the man who used his fame as a Penn State football coach, his access to athletic facilities and his supply of game tickets to lure in the area's troubled youth. It's not the writer of love letters that left one victim declaring, "He treated me like his girlfriend." It's not the guy who admits he tested boundaries.
It's not the one who took overnight trips with kids. It's not the guy who instructed boys to take off their pajamas because "men" sleep shirtless in their underwear and then promptly began giving them bareback massages that soon went below the belt.
It's not the man who rented local hotel rooms in the middle of the day and was seen there with boys to the puzzlement of cleaning ladies. It's not the one who couldn't stop wrestling with kids.
It's not the old man whose own adopted son turned on him and accused him of molestation, too.
Not him. Not Jerry. It's his victims who are evil, Dottie said. No evidence, of course, no basis for reality, of course, but who needs that when you're slamming the hell out of child sexual-abuse victims and getting whatever ratings bump the "first exclusive interview with Dottie Sandusky" provides.
"It was incredibly irresponsible, insensitive and frankly blind to the fact that child sexual abuse is an epidemic in this country," said Kristen Houser, the vice president for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. "It's unbelievable for a major arm of the media to do this … it was voyeuristic and sensational."
Make no mistake, this isn't some plea for everyone to shut up about Jerry Sandusky or move on from Jerry Sandusky or just get in line and never question anything about the conviction of Jerry Sandusky. It's the exact opposite.
If NBC or another media organization would like to put together a viable news report that somehow proves Sandusky's innocence or uncovers attorneys indeed somehow convinced so many men to lie or even raises viable new legal questions that make the case that Sandusky deserves a new trial, go for it.
No criminal investigation or trial is perfectly neat, and there were, like always, issues with this one. Parts of the story have never made complete sense. Some of Judge John Cleland's rulings were controversial. That's how it is in every trial. There are always disputes and discrepancies and post-verdict arguments. That's why appellate courts exist.
Sandusky's attorneys raised many of the issues in real time. His new legal team is continuing to argue for a new trial, as is his right. This wasn't a close case, though. There were eight victims that testified, not one. There was an eyewitness who was thoroughly cross-examined. There was additional evidence. Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts over a string of years.
"The case is so overwhelming it's an outlier," Houser said. "You never see this much evidence."
Still, this is America. It is not unheard of for someone to be wrongly convicted. It may seem overwhelmingly unlikely, but if that's NBC's crusade, then bring it.
NBC didn't bring it.
It propped up this woman and let her say terrible things because it knew this was perfect programming – people watch, curse her denial and stupidity, and feel better about themselves before they've even gotten the kids off to school. NBC even ran some of the tweets criticizing her later in the show, with no less than Carson Daly reading them.
What NBC needed was experts who could raise the level of discourse and counter the same terrible stereotypes that Dottie ignorantly blathered about.
"When you let Dottie sit there and say, 'He couldn't have done it because I know him,' it is just one more reinforcement of the 'he-was-a-nice-guy' defense," Houser said. "How many prominent nice guys do we have to see convicted for that to end?"
There was apparently no concern for all the other potential victims of assault across the country who got to see, clearly, what happens when you stand up to a high-profile figure who can attract national TV cameras.
"The chilling effect of this is incredible," Houser said.
Rather than rehash points already brought up in the trial – and deemed unconvincing by the jury – they didn't ask dozens of obvious counter questions. And they never bothered to broach any new and simple lines of questions.
Such as, if Dottie is willing to go so far as to attack victims in the defense of her husband, why doesn't the family release the results of a polygraph test Jerry has acknowledged he once took?
Jerry has refused to discuss the results. His reason, he's claimed, is that polygraphs are inadmissible in a court of law. Indeed, they aren't admissible because they don't meet a legal standard of accuracy. But they can be very insightful. And the Sanduskys are fighting in the court of public opinion, not law.
Put it this way: If this lie detector test exonerated Jerry Sandusky in any way, wouldn't they be waving it around, begging people to read it?
Or, is it more likely it's a nightmare for them, so they are hiding it and blaming the victims instead?
Look, there are very driven and powerful forces that need Sandusky to be innocent because if Sandusky is innocent then everyone associated with this story is innocent. You can't fail to report something that never occurred. You can't be shamed over something that never happened. It's the same way it would behoove some for star prosecution witness Mike McQueary to be discredited, by any means necessary.
So you’ll be seeing more of Dottie Sandusky, not less.
The Sandusky "Truthers" hijacking of this story is an insult to the vast majority of Penn State students, alums, faculty, staff and fans who have approached this with open minds and great responsibility. That includes ones who still have reasonable questions about the culpability of their school and the actions of the Board of Trustees and those who understandably rail against vast NCAA sanctions or treatment by the media.
The "Free Jerry" brigade also stands in stark contrast with the conduct of Joe Paterno's family, which defended their late father and his actions with a high-road investigation of their own and a respectful media campaign. Agree with their conclusions or not, like their father or not, it was done the proper way, with the welfare of Sandusky's victims in mind.
Success with honor was what Paterno preached. At least some people are trying to follow it.
Unfortunately, it's not this bottom-feeding campaign that slings the dirtiest of mud at whatever and whomever it might stick, even, quite unbelievably, the group of boys turned men who stood up to a serial pedophile and ended his long terrorization of central Pennsylvania.
What those men did took courage, real courage. Not just in confronting Sandusky, but in confronting their own failures.
Consider so-called Victim 4, the oldest of those who testified, tearfully apologizing post-trial to Sandusky's younger prey for not having the strength to come forward sooner and thus saving them.
"I ask the others after me to forgive me," he said humbly.
That doesn't fit with Dottie's narrative he was just a morally bankrupt opportunist obsessed with money. Of course, little does.
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