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11.16.11

Lawyers: Costas Interview 'Killed' Sandusky's Case

Alleged child molester Jerry Sandusky defended himself Monday on NBC. Was it the worst move his attorney could have made? Lawyers who know him say yes—but add it may have been the ex–Penn State coach’s idea. Plus, Buzz Bissinger on Sandusky's shameless, creepy interview.

There aren’t a lot of people who’d tell you Jerry Sandusky made a good move when he agreed to an interview with Bob Costas of NBC News on Monday night. For 12 painful minutes, the former Penn State assistant coach hemmed and hawed about what went on during his numerous showers with underage boys.

He said that one incident, in which a graduate assistant told a grand jury he walked in on Sandusky raping a young boy, was merely “horseplay.”

He said nothing inappropriate had happened in a later episode, when an angry mother called to ask why he’d gotten naked with her son.

He contended there was nothing to a third report, this time from a janitor, alleging that he walked in on Sandusky giving oral sex to yet another young boy.

Afterward, Sandusky’s lawyer, Joseph Amendola, sat down with Costas and said he was totally convinced of his client’s innocence. That he would “absolutely” let his own children spend time with the former football coach. That he wouldn’t have taken the case were he unconvinced of Sandusky’s innocence.

Was there any upside to the whole thing?

Not according to Amendola’s estranged wife, who wrote on her Facebook page, “OMG. Did Joe just say he would allow my kids to be alone with Jerry Sandusky?”

And not according to several lawyers who’ve known Amendola over the years and spoke to The Daily Beast on Tuesday. One after the other, they said the interview had been a disaster for Sandusky.

“If he were my client,” says defense attorney Phil Masorti, “I would hope I would be able to distinguish that while these interviews may be good for me as his lawyer, they may not be good for him as my client … I watched that interview. It killed [Sandusky].”

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To put a client on TV under those circumstances would take “a gun to my head,” says Centre County, Pa., trial attorney James Bryant.

The interview almost didn’t happen. It wasn’t until 10 to 15 minutes before airtime, Costas explained later, that Amendola said, “What if I can get Sandusky on the phone?” No reporter’s gonna turn that down.

But is Amendola really the “worst defense attorney in history,” as columnist Buzz Bissinger writes in The Daily Beast today?

Certainly, no one who’s met Amendola describes him as an idiot—although his own sexual judgment has raised eyebrows. The Penn State alum attended Georgetown Law. Since going into private practice, he’s shown a penchant for taking on clients who aren’t exactly easy to like and had a fairly good track record with them.

His highest-profile case, before Sandusky, was in 2007, when he defended a Penn State tailback named Austin Scott who was accused of rape. The case against Scott went up in smoke after it turned out the accuser had said another man raped her, without much evidence to back it up.

'If he were my client, I would hope I would be able to distinguish that while these interviews may be good for me as his lawyer, they may not be good for him as my client … I watched that interview. It killed [Sandusky].'

“I’ve known Joe for years,” says Andrew Shubin, the civil-rights attorney who announced this week that he is working on the other side, representing one or more of Sandusky’s alleged victims. “I respect his work and I anticipate he will do everything he possibly can to help his client.” “He is very well liked,” he added.

Indeed, others who agreed with that assessment wondered aloud whose idea the little press tour was, Amendola’s or Sandusky’s.

“I don’t think Joe made the decision,” says Bryant. “Jocks love to talk—and one of the earmarks of a pedophile is they don’t think they did anything wrong. My gut is that Joe had his hands full.”

Norris Gelman, a criminal defender in Philadelphia, speculates: “Sandusky wanted to go on and tell people he was not guilty.”

If only it had worked.