Penn State Trial

The Sandusky Sexual Abuse Case’s Biggest Mysteries

A missing DA. No charges filed for years. As jury selection begins, Diane Dimond on the strangest twists.

The whispers about Jerry Sandusky have ricocheted around Centre County, Pa., since at least 1998, when allegations of child sexual abuse first surfaced.

The district attorney at the time, Ray Gricar, took the case of the popular Penn State assistant football coach to a grand jury, and the resulting indictment accused Sandusky of sexually touching a young boy while they were both naked. Also revealed: Sandusky, in trying to apologize to the boy’s mother, told her, “I wish I were dead.” Police overheard the conversation from a nearby room and considered it the next best thing to a confession. But no charges were filed in the case of the boy, who is now grown and known to the public simply as accuser No. 6 in the current criminal case against Sandusky. The district attorney went missing in 2005 and has never been found. Last July, Ray Gricar was officially declared dead. That’s Mystery No. 1 in this convoluted case.

Mystery No. 2: Why nothing came of a visibly upset Penn State janitor’s report to co-workers in 2000, after he said he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the gymnasium shower. That janitor now suffers from acute dementia and cannot testify at Sandusky’s upcoming trial.

Mystery No. 3: Why, after Penn State football assistant Mike McQueary said he witnessed a very similar scene in February 2001—a naked Sandusky allegedly committing a sex act on a naked boy in the gym showers—did the university not involve local law enforcement. (McQueary initially gave the date as March 2002, as did an earlier version of this article; prosecutors revised the date to 2001 in recent court filings.) McQueary said he reported what he allegedly saw in the showers to head football coach Joe Paterno and was told not to worry, that the coach would handle the matter. (Paterno, 85, was fired after the Sandusky sex scandal surfaced last year and died of lung cancer in January this year. Two top university officials were also ousted in the wake of the scandal.)

And Mystery No. 4: How Sandusky’s defense team believes it will be able to counter what is sure to be sexually graphic testimony from at least 8 of the young accusers (the so-called Janitor boy and the McQueary boy were never idnetified) who are expected to say that when they were boys they suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Coach Sandusky, a man they trusted. Court filings indicate there may be as many as 17 accusers who will come forward, but the 52 charges in the latest indictment relate only to the original 10 boys. Sandusky has steadfastly denied he ever molested any youngster.

Dr. Eileen Tracy of Lehman College in New York, an expert in sexual abuse and child development, says she isn’t surprised that Sandusky decided to buck the odds and go to trial, even in the face of what appears to be overwhelming evidence. While acknowledging that a defendant is always presumed innocent, Dr. Tracy told The Daily Beast: “Sex offenders, as a group, engage in a lot of cognitive distortion. They don’t believe they’re doing anything harmful, and that belief is so strong you could put them on a [polygraph] and they would pass it.”

It is a sure bet the defense team will conduct a vigorous cross-examination of all the witnesses brought by the prosecution, but especially when the alleged victims take the stand. The young men’s backgrounds have certainly been thoroughly investigated by the defense, and if there are negatives such as drug or alcohol abuse, anti-social behavior, or a history of telling lies, they will surely surface during their testimony.

Dr. Tracy notes that such behaviors are consistent with those a victim of sexual abuse often adopts as a coping mechanism. “My advice to the witness is always be honest,” she says. “[It’s] better to be truthful. And I always urge the prosecutor to get it on the record during direct exam” and not wait for a harsh cross-examination to bring up an accuser’s past bad conduct.

It has been decided that the accusers will not be able to hide behind their numerical designations during the trial. The judge has ruled that just like other alleged victim-witnesses, their real names will be disclosed when they take their place on the stand. So far that ruling has not caused any of the young men to balk at testifying.

As in any highly publicized case, choosing the jury is a critically important step. The prosecution, citing the influence of both Penn State and Sandusky’s Second Mile children’s charity, had asked the court to allow jury selection to take place outside the county. But Centre County Court Judge John Cleland denied the request, despite the massive pretrial publicity in and around State College, Pa., and set aside four days this week to choose the jury locally. Cleland also set opening statements to begin on Monday, June 11, but there are few who think jury selection can be completed by then.

Expert jury consultants are split on what each side will be looking for in a potential juror. Richard Gabriel, president of Decision Analysis of Los Angeles says: “Demographics are the poorest way to pick a jury. Age, race, gender doesn’t really tell you that much for these types of cases. The better denominator is how a juror was raised and their orientation.” For that reason, Gabriel says he thinks the prosecution will want to strike any member of the jury pool who has any connection to the Penn State football mystique and might think to themselves: “I’ve been to every single game. I have Penn State bumper stickers. I can’t believe Sandusky would do something like this!”

But Robert Hirschhorn of Cathy E. Bennett & Associates, near Dallas, says just the opposite. Prosecutors should embrace the Penn State booster who will likely have scorn for Sandusky, Hirschhorn says: “He took the roar out of the Nittany Lions. A lot of them will want to burn this guy at the stake because they’ll see that as how they’ll get their reputation back.” Hirschhorn looks for the defense to choose people who are naturally skeptical, conspiracy theorists, and younger, more progressive-thinking jurors who may have a less stringent view of sexual misconduct. Sandusky’s team, he says, will likely steer clear of people who want or cannot have children.

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Gabriel views the prosecution team as fairly comfortable with its abundance of evidence, so he predicts they will focus on the potential high-risk, hold-out jurors and the ones with dominant personalities who could sway others. Law-and-order types always make good prosecution picks, he says.

As the nation’s next big headline-generating trial gets under way—as Sandusky comes face to face with the anticipated tearful testimony of his accusers—does there come a time when he turns to his defense team and says, “Stop the trial”?

If he is a true preferential pedophile, defined as someone who is obsessed by and prefers an underage sex partner over an adult, he won’t call a halt, says Dr. Tracy. “It’s highly doubtful,” she says. “They are just too narcissistic. They really live in a world of all this distortion, and as ridiculous as it may be to us, they really believe the kid wanted it as much as they did.”