Jerry Sandusky's slim chance for appeal hurt by decision to send him to supermax prison
Back on Oct. 9, just minutes after Jerry Sandusky received a prison sentence of 30 to 60 years for sexually abusing children, his attorney Joe Amendola expressed confidence in Sandusky's prospect for appeal. The lawyer even anticipated the system would keep Sandusky near his home in the State College, Pa. area.
Amendola seized on the decision by Judge John Cleland to return Sandusky for 10 days to the Centre County Correctional Facility, a local jail in Bellefonte just a few miles from Penn State rather than immediately send him to a state prison processing facility near Harrisburg.
Sandusky would soon file a motion to begin the appeal process and Amendola reasoned that Judge Cleland was acknowledging that Sandusky's appellate process would be aided greatly by having close and constant access to family, friends, potential defense witnesses and, of course, his lawyers.
"I anticipate [Judge Cleland] will keep him local," Amendola said.
Even if Sandusky was sent to a full prison rather than just jail, which tends to house people awaiting trial or sentencing or serving out short incarcerations, he could've conceivably wound up at State Correctional Institute Rockview, also in Bellefonte. It would provide similar geographic convenience as well as quality-of-life possibilities such as outdoor work in the surrounding fields if Sandusky was granted another of his wishes – being put in with the general population despite being a high-profile child sex offender.
On Wednesday, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania did Sandusky no such favors, provided no such comforts and showed no such signs that that it sees any merit in any of his expected appeals.
[Related: Jerry Sandusky sentenced to maximum-security prison]
The 68-year-old was transferred to SCI-Greene in Waynesburg, the far southwest corner of the state and a 181-mile drive from State College. Only a couple of other facilities are located further from Sandusky's home and even then by only a few miles.
The man who haunted central Pennsylvania by abusing at least 10 boys over a 15-year period is unlikely to ever see the rolling hills of the Happy Valley again.
This was a nightmare transfer, and it came almost exactly one year after his Nov. 4, 2011, bombshell indictment rocked the region and Penn State football, where Sandusky was the long-time defensive coordinator. In June, Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse.
Unlike Rockview, SCI-Greene is a Supermax facility designed to house some of Pennsylvania's most dangerous criminals. One of the state's two death rows is located there. Sandusky will be put in protective custody, which will keep him isolated from other prisoners.
He'll be allowed just one hour of outdoor exercise, alone, five days during the week. He'll get just three showers a week. The rest of his time will essentially be spent in solitary confinement. All visits will be "non contact," meaning they'll take place behind a window or screen with not even hand holding allowed. The visits are limited and closely monitored.
While prison officials cite the need to protect Sandusky from other inmates that might physically or sexually harm him, it's about the worst possible way to serve out your remaining days. Maintaining sanity, let alone mental crispness, in such isolation is a challenge. This is the definition of hard time.
Based on the words of his attorneys and Sandusky's motions, it's the exact opposite of what he was seeking. Sandusky never doubted his safety among other inmates.
"Jerry made friends in [county jail]," Amendola said earlier in October. "He was a model prisoner. He was getting along well and adjusting well."
SCI-Greene will be nothing like that.
Sandusky's already slim chances for appeal, which at best would yield a new trial, weren't helped by the transfer.
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Sandusky is farther from his attorneys, at least one of which practices out of Harrisburg, a full hour east. While SCI-Greene is just down I-79 from Sandusky's boyhood home of Washington, he is now at least a three-hour drive from many friends and family members, particularly his wife Dottie.
At his sentencing, Sandusky expressed undying gratitude at the small cadre of family and friends still visiting him, claiming the interactions kept him hopeful and sane. He is also likely reliant on them to find new information back in the State College area if his appeal stands a chance. A lack of communication only hurts Sandusky.
Sandusky's lawyers must raise arguments for the basis of the appeal by Nov. 9 and file briefs by Nov. 16. State prosecutors have until Dec. 5 to respond. Judge Cleland set a hearing date for Dec. 10 in Centre County Court.
Amendola and co-counsel Karl Rominger have said the appeal will center on Sandusky receiving a lack of due process because of the state pushing the complicated and detailed 52-count case to trial just seven months after Sandusky was indicted. Both attorneys said they were unprepared to handle cross examinations or simple defenses because of a lack of time to pour through the state's mountain of evidence.
"We were literally preparing the night before," Amendola said. "There was a rush to justice in this case."
They also promised to focus on a statement during closing arguments by Deputy Attorney General Joe McGettigan that they argued infringed on Sandusky's right to remain silent. And finally there was Cleland's decision to allow hearsay evidence in the case of Victim No. 9. A Penn State janitor was allowed to testify that another janitor, now suffering from dementia, claimed he saw Sandusky molesting a boy in a locker-room shower nearly a decade ago.
Judge Cleland, however, made sure when setting the sentencing that all of the years involving Victim No. 9 will be served concurrently, so even if the conviction is thrown out, it wouldn't impact Sandusky's minimum sentence.
In this case, the minimum 30-year sentence – which even Amendola acknowledges will be longer and certainly mean Sandusky will die in prison – will be served in what might be Sandusky's least desirable fashion.
He'll be about as far as possible from home, in the remote and isolated spot from his attorneys, and under the harshest and loneliest of possible conditions.
Little has gone Jerry Sandusky's way since he was indicted nearly one year ago. On Wednesday, it got worse.
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