Sandusky Should Plead Guilty If He Wants a Shot at Redemption

By waiving his right to a hearing on Tuesday, the ex-coach spared his alleged victims the pain of testifying. Now he needs to plead guilty. Plus, Jessica Bennett and Jacob Bernstein on Sandusky’s courtroom showdown.

Nabil K. Mark / Getty Images

Jerry Sandusky’s one chance for even the slightest glimmer of redemption is to announce that he intends to plead guilty and spare his victims the ordeal of a trial.

He took one step in the right direction on Tuesday, when he waived the right to a preliminary hearing, though he most likely did so to spare himself from being confronted by his accusers. Had he been thinking of the victims, he would not have left them still facing the prospect of testifying at the trial.

Unless the 10 complainants are all lying, and Sandusky really is as innocent as he insists in defiance of all sense and logic, his determination to subject his victims to more shame is just another form of abuse. The very fact that the victims have asked not to be publicly identified suggests how they likely feel about the prospect of appearing in a courtroom packed with 100 reporters.

In a hint of what will likely be his strategy at trial Sandusky’s lawyer, Joe Amendola, has suggested that the 10 young men who say Sandusky molested them are motivated by money. That is known as smearing the victims, in this instance 10, all of whom were underage at the time they allege Sandusky molested them. The majority of the victims had already suffered considerable hardships in life and had trusted Sandusky as a mentor and protector.

And Sandusky is clearly ready to let his lawyer smear them even though he himself seems to believe he will be convicted. He said as much in his interview with The New York Times, when he spoke of how much he will miss his dog. The only way he would be separated from his pooch would be if he were sent to prison.

If convicted of all 52 counts, Sandusky faces a maximum sentence of some 500 years. He is 67 years old, which suggests that even if the prosecution were to offer him a reduced term in exchange for a guilty plea he still would face what constituted a life sentence.

All Sandusky could expect to get out of entering a guilty plea is the knowledge that he is doing something right after what seems to have been so many years of doing so much wrong. Any accusers who seek some kind of catharsis by confronting him could ask to make a Victim Impact Statement at the sentencing.

Pennsylvania state law guarantees victims the right to describe either in writing or in courtroom testimony the impact of the defendant’s actions on their lives. And, at a sentencing hearing, the victims would not be subjected to cross-examination by an attorney who in this case seems bent on giving truth to an old cop’s joke about the difference between a pig and a lawyer. The punchline is that there are some things a pig just won’t do.

In his autobiography—creepily titled Touched—Sandusky recounts breaking a headlight on the family car while swinging a real Louisville slugger for an imaginary home run in one of his regular, solitary, make-believe baseball games.

“I thought of sweeping away the evidence with the broom from the garage,” Sandusky recalls. “After all there weren’t any witnesses. That idea wouldn’t work because, glass or no glass, a broken headlight stays a broken headlight … As much as I labored and agonized over the situation, I realized there was no easy way out. There was no alternative but to tell my parents.”

He went to the ice cream stand his mother and father ran. He felt his burden ease as he blurted out a confession. His father praised him for telling the truth and said that what was important was that they were always honest with each other.

“He followed his words with a hug, and my mom joined in,” Sandusky remembers in the book. “For a few precious moments, the world was all right again … I learned that day it took far more courage to tell the truth sometimes than to make up a lie. And by telling the truth I could gain a far greater amount of respect.”

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In this case not of a broken headlight, but of shattered trust, maybe shattered lives, a confession is not likely to get Sandusky hugs, and the world is not likely to feel all right, even for a moment. He cannot expect respect from anybody.

But Sandusky should remember what his father told him about the all-importance of the truth. Investigators who work such cases say pedophiles often know that what they are doing is illegal even as they somehow convince themselves that it was not actually wrong.

Sandusky knows that a broken headlight still stays a broken headlight even if he imagines he was only engaging in a little “horseplay.” And he could have no doubt what his father would want him to do, particularly if he had a last chance for any redemption at all.