Jerry Sandusky's defense team confident in appeal

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

BELLEFONTE, Pa. – Just moments after his client, Jerry Sandusky, was effectively sentenced to life in prison, defense attorney Karl Rominger stood in the middle of Courtroom 1 of the Centre County Courthouse and expressed supreme confidence in what was to come.

“We have a great appeal,” Rominger said.

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Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of sexually molesting 10 boys over 15 years at a June trial. The jury’s decision was unanimous and emphatic. Tuesday, Judge John Cleland sentenced the 68-year-old former Penn State defensive coordinator to 30-to-60 years in state prison.

Considering how Pennsylvania’s probation system views minimum sentences, “that has the unmitigated impact of saying, ‘the rest of your life in prison,’” Cleland assured.

Rominger said the most hopeful part of the day, however, was that the appellate process could now begin. They have 10 days to file an initial motion.

Later, co-defense Joe Amendola noted that Cleland’s decision to hold Sandusky in the county jail for that same 10-day period, rather than ship him immediately to state prison, was a hopeful sign that the system sees a real chance at a new trial.

“I anticipate [Cleland] will keep him local,” Amendola said, allowing Sandusky to work on the appeal.

Time will tell on all of that. Cleland displayed nothing but a firm hand of justice on Tuesday, even scolding Sandusky for an audio statement Monday that attacked the victims and the system.

With nothing to lose and plenty of time on his hands though, Sandusky, who has always maintained his innocence, will appeal.

[Related: Jerry Sandusky sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison | Timeline of case]

Here’s the three-front attack Sandusky’s lawyers will base it on.

The first is a statement by deputy attorney general Joseph McGettigan during closing arguments that Sandusky didn’t offer enough detail or further answers during a television interview with NBC’s Bob Costas. Sandusky’s fumbling words were used by the state as evidence.

McGettigan, in his closing, pointed to a question by Costas asking if Sandusky was “sexually attracted to young boys.” Sandusky repeated the question and then paused before answering “no.”

“I would think the automatic response when someone asks you if you’re, you know, a criminal, a pedophile, a child molester, or anything along those lines, your immediate response would be, ‘no. What? Are you nuts?’” McGettigan argued.

“Instead of, ‘are you sexually attracted to young boys? Let me think about that for a second. Am I sexually attracted to young boys? I would so no’ or whatever it is. … Mr. Amendola’s explanation [is] that he automatically repeats questions. I wouldn’t know. I only heard him on TV … So that’s his explanation there.”

Rominger claimed that McGettigan violated Sandusky’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent by suggesting Sandusky’s answers were inefficient when in fact he never had to say anything at all.

“Mr. McGettigan urged the jury to consider that Mr. Sandusky didn’t say enough, impairing on his right to remain silent,” Rominger said. “It’s black and white. I think it’s our single best point of appeal.”

[Related: Sandusky timeline: How we got to Tuesday’s sentencing]

Numerous legal experts have told other media outlets that they find it unlikely a new trial would be granted on that point. Only an appeal’s judge knows for sure.

The second point, Amendola says, is the lack of time for Sandusky to prepare an adequate defense. He said the state’s evidence was both overwhelming and complex, built up over a three-year state police investigation. Meanwhile, the defense attorney had about four and a half months to wade through it and find witnessed and evidence to counter the numerous charges. He notes a huge influx of documents from the state on May 31, just weeks before the trial began.

The rush to trial, which Amendola said was motivated by the community’s interest in putting the entire ordeal behind it, violated Sandusky’s right to due process. Repeated motions for a continuance were denied, Amendola said.

“What we said from the beginning it we needed more time,” he said.

It was obvious during the trial Amendola was noticeably unprepared during cross-examinations. As an example, Amendola cites the defense’s inability to get phone records before the trial that may have shown victims talking among themselves.

“We were literally preparing the night before,” Amendola said.

Amendola previously suggested to the Harrisburg Patriot-News he would step down from the case and declare himself “ineffective” to aide the appeal’s process. However on Tuesday, Rominger said the two planned to continue on as Sandusky’s attorneys.

McGettigan dismissed the charge that the defense didn’t have time to prepare and took a shot at Amendola’s many pre-trial appearances in the media.

“He might have spent [that time] preparing,” McGettigan said.

[Related: Jerry Sandusky issues defiant statement from jail | Wetzel on YSR]

Amendola went on to argue that Sandusky’s speedy trial was particularly unfair in light of the slow process involving Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz. Those two are facing just two counts, one for failure to report a crime, the other for perjury, essentially involving a lone witness, former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary.

Yet their trials are scheduled for January 2013, 14 months after being indicted and could still be pushed back. Sandusky was dealing with 10 separate, complicated sexual molestation cases with scores of potential witnesses and was tried months ago.

“There was a rush to justice in this case,” Amendola argued.

Finally the defense is expected to specifically appeal the convictions involving Victim No. 9 who has never been identified. The case hinged on a janitor in the Penn State football building, who back in 2000 told his coworkers he saw Sandusky molesting a boy in a locker room shower.

The janitors never took it to authorities because they said they feared losing their job for accusing such a prominent member of the Penn State program. The story wasn’t uncovered until two years ago when investigators questioned janitors if they ever saw anything suspicious.

The janitor who witnessed the act now suffers from dementia and was deemed unfit to testify at trial. The state brought in one of his coworkers at the time that described what the janitor said he saw that night. It was a classic case of hearsay and the defense objected to it at trial. Judge Cleland allowed it anyway however.

Sensing that the case of Victim No. 9 is open to reversal or dismissal, Cleland noted during sentencing that the years in prison from those specific counts were designated to be served concurrent with years from other counts.

Thus, even if it is dismissed, Sandusky’s 30-to-60 year sentence will be unaffected.

It’s pointless to predict whether any of this carries weight with Judge Cleland or the inevitable appellate judges, or whether these items matter in a case with such overwhelming evidence against Sandusky.

Moreover, McGettigan said Tuesday there is an “on going investigation” into at least one additional victim. Claims of abuse by one of Sandusky’s own sons were not included in the June trial but could be prosecuted in the future. So the state could still strike back too.

Just moments after Sandusky was led back to the Centre County Correctional Institution though, Rominger promised the process of finding out whether there is merit to the arguments will begin immediately.

“[Sandusky’s] ready to start the appellate process,” Rominger declared.

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