Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case goes to the jury after both sides make final arguments

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

BELLEFONTE, Pa. – For 72 minutes Thursday morning, defense attorney Joe Amendola paced in front of the jurors' box and accomplished what many thought impossible: make an impassioned and purposeful case that Jerry Sandusky was innocent of child abuse charges.

He invoked Mother Teresa and Joe Paterno. He directly attacked some of the state's strongest evidence against his client, including Sandusky's stumbling interview with NBC. He painted the picture of overaggressive cops, social workers and even a newspaper hell-bent on getting the former Penn State defensive coordinator.

And he consistently challenged jurors to consider the totality of the circumstances, that no one ever alleged anything against Sandusky until he was in his mid 50s, that the police didn't arrest him on numerous previous accusations and that Sandusky couldn't have had the time to commit all these crimes. He concluded that this was the work of a vast conspiracy driven by money from potential civil suits.

"Folks, do we have to get hit in the head with a brick to figure this out?" Amendola said before pointing at Sandusky seated at the defense table. "This man's life is at stake."

Amendola maximized what was the limited amount of material the defense had to work with. If Sandusky beats the long odds of earning an acquittal or even if the jury comes back hung, then it's because of this closing argument, far and away the defense's best moment of the nearly two-week trial.

[Related: Sandusky juror profiles: Most of the seven women, five men have Penn State ties]

Of course, nothing may be enough to save Sandusky from 48 counts related to sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period (four counts were dropped from the original 52). During the trial, the state presented waves of emotionally powerful testimony, devastated witnesses and Sandusky's own bizarre behavior.

Deputy attorney general Joseph E. McGettigan III followed Amendola with his own summation, which was halting and not nearly as strong but mocked the vast conspiracy theory that would require compliance from hundreds of participants over decades.

"It's not about conspiracies, it's not about time-travel conspiracies, it's not about people making financial fortunes," McGettigan said. "… It collapses under itself.

"… This is about what happened to those boys," he said as he pointed at the boyhood pictures of eight of the alleged victims.

The jury received the case at 1:12 p.m. ET and will be sequestered during deliberations. Sandusky, who has maintained his innocence, faces as many as 400 years in prison.

The case against him is strong, with McGettigan using Amendola's own words from his opening statement by reminding the jury that it was the defense that stated, "The Commonwealth has overwhelming evidence against Mr. Sandusky."

The Patriot-News reported Thursday afternoon that Sandusky's adopted son, Matt, told prosecutors earlier in the week that he was prepared to testify that Sandusky had abused him. It is unclear why prosecutors did not call him to the stand. Matt, 33, was adopted by Jerry and Dottie Sandusky as an adult after he'd lived with the family as a foster child. In the past, the Patriot-News reported, Matt has denied that his adopted father had abused him.

No matter the outcome, no matter which way you fell on Sandusky's guilt, what Amendola pulled off was some tremendous lawyering. He's been oft-criticized for his tactics since the Sandusky scandal went national in November, but he delivered on his reputation as a fine attorney Thursday morning in a warm, crowded courtroom.

His strongest arguments were pointing out that Sandusky was never accused of anything until the mid-1990s.

"So out of the blue, when he is in his mid 50s, he decides to be a pedophile," he said. "Does that make sense?"

[Related: Sandusky, Ohio: Proud city fights off an adverse double meaning]

He tried to destroy the testimony of former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary, who alleges he walked in on Sandusky engaging in anal sex with a boy in a locker room shower. He noted that McQueary didn't stop this crime and didn't call the cops. McQueary did tell five men, including his father, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno and university officials, and none of them believed it was worth arresting Sandusky at the time.

That, Amendola said, suggests McQueary didn't see what he now says he saw because there's no way they wouldn't have reported it.

"You all have common sense," he said. "Does that make sense?"

He later asked why the police didn't arrest Sandusky in 2008, when Victim No. 1 came forward with considerable accusations.

"They could have arrested him in 2008 if they thought he was such a monster," Amendola argued. "Jerry's a monster. If he's such a monster, why didn't they arrest him in 2008?"

He harped on police who coached alleged victims and said the boys are financially motivated to accuse Sandusky. Amendola even tried to blame the conspiracy for besmirching the reputation of Penn State, the fallout of which included firings of good men and even "a dead coach," a reference to the iconic Paterno.

Later, McGettigan scolded Amendola for pulling Penn State into this case.

In his best and most dramatic moment, McGettigan closed his presentation by walking directly behind the seated Sandusky and telling the jury that while they can't erase the horrible acts committed on the children, they can help make things right.

[Related: Dan Wetzel: Defense rests without letting Jerry Sandusky testify]

"What you can do, should do, must do is come out and say the defendant, that he molested, abused and hurt these children," McGettigan said. "You can't give back those souls, those pieces of the souls he took.

"You can acknowledge it and give him the justice he deserves, find him guilty of everything."

In a case where the defendant has acknowledged that he regularly laid in bed with boys and hugged, wrestled and tickled boys in the shower, there wasn't much room for the defense to work with.

Amendola's argument, at the very least, could play well to any juror that may distrust authorities or see Sandusky as a railroaded former local hero.

Considering many thought Sandusky stood little chance, Amendola at least gave him hope.

McGettigan didn't let up, though. He went, again, through the brutal details of Sandusky molesting the boys, pounding home each act and playing on the state's great advantage: the alleged victims' testimonies. It's one thing to allege a giant conspiracy, it's another to cause jurors to forget about the often-powerful personal testimony of anguished accusers and witnesses.

He defended McQueary, the police investigators, the children's youth services staffers and the host of others who testified against Sandusky. He asked that if nothing happened in the shower the night McQueary walked in, why didn't Sandusky bring forward the boy today to say it was an innocent event? Today he's a grown man who has not been identified and did not testify.

McGettigan also took time to rebut a number of Amendola's assertions that weren't factually correct. He lacked the flair of the defense attorney, but he had a mountain of evidence and facts on his side.

The prosecution also brought in three of the alleged victims and their families to sit in the first two rows of the gallery, near the jury. The alleged victims spent McGettigan's 64-minute long closing argument looking directly at jurors.

On the other side of the court, Dottie Sandusky sat with four of her and Jerry's adopted children – three sons and a daughter. Matt Sandusky was not present.

Judge John Cleland gave jurors detailed jury instructions and then reminded them that "you must decide those charges on the evidence."

After they shuffled out to Courtroom No. 2 to get to work, Amendola expressed that he was "tired."

"We faced such an uphill battle, it was like climbing Mt. Everest from the foot of the hill," he said. "We just tried to get to an even playing field."

Just a few feet away, Sandusky stood with his hands in his pockets. He visited with family as his wife gently rubbed his back and arm. His fate would be determined just down the hall.

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