BELLEFONTE, Pa. - The evidence was clearly stacked against Jerry Sandusky.
During his two-week sex-abuse trial, prosecutors bombarded the jury with sometimes tearful testimony of eight victims, a witness who painted a graphic tableau of a rape in a shower, and "creepy love letters" Sandusky is said to have written to a boy.
If that weren't enough, Sandusky's adopted son Matt approached prosecutors during the trial and offered to testify. Prosecutors held back the bombshell from the jury, planning to offer him as a rebuttal witness, which ultimately forced the not to put the 68-year-old former Penn State football coach on the stand.
But was the case, which ended Friday with the jury finding Sandusky guilty on 45 counts, indefensible?
As the jury deliberated, lead defense attorney Joe Amendola said, "I'll probably die of a heart attack," if Sandusky is acquitted on all 48 counts. But, he added, "I did the best I could with the circumstances."
Amendola compared defending Sandusky against the state's overwhelming evidence to "climbing Mount Everest from the bottom," and gave his client a "one in a million" chance of leaving the courthouse a free man.
The sheer volume of evidence against Sandusky was daunting, as Amendola put it, but no case is indefensible, attorneys say.
"There is always a defense, a cross-examination, a way to take it apart piece by piece or present character evidence," said Terence Houck, Northampton County first deputy district attorney. "Was this case indefensible? No. Was this guy's defense absurd? Yes. He had nothing. The evidence was overwhelming."
Others charged in seemingly open and shut cases have been found not guilty.
Think O.J. Simpson in 1995 or Casey Anthony last year. The cases dealt with different crimes and types of evidence, but the perceived strength of the prosecution's cases led the public to believe in their guilt, even sending Anthony - found not guilty last year of killing her daughter - into hiding.
Such acquittals can happen because the legal system is stacked against the prosecution.
Sandusky was presumed innocent and the prosecution had to convince 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty. The defense - which doesn't have to put up a single witness - only needed to convince one juror there were holes in a case.
But, said one of the attorneys who defended William Lynn, the Philadelphia clergyman convicted of endangering the welfare of children in another notorious child-abuse trial, Sandusky's case was as close as it gets to indefensible.
"You can't fault Amendola for taking it to trial," said attorney Jeff Lindy, who helped defend the former Philadelphia Roman Catholic Archdiocese secretary of clergy against allegations that he recommended suspected pedophile priests for positions where they had contact with children. Lynn was found guilty Friday on one count of child endangerment and faces seven years in prison. The jury acquitted Lynn on two counts.
"People go to trial because they're knuckleheads, or people go to trial because they're innocent, or people go to trial because they've got nothing to lose. This guy had nothing to lose," Lindy said of Sandusky.
The seven counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse - oral or anal sex with a person under 16 - oo which Sandusky, 68, was convicted carry mandatory minimum sentences of five to 20 years each, essentially ensuring that he will serve a life sentence. That prospect made a plea deal pointless.
"With his age and the severity of the crimes and the number of victims, there is no plea offer that would get him out with life left to live," Lindy said.
Typically, sex-abuse cases involve one or two victims, making it a question of who is believable. But the charges against Sandusky involved 10 boys over a 15-year span.
Eight of the 10 accusers testified to similar abuse, allowing prosecutors to paint a picture of Sandusky using his The Second Mile charity for disadvantaged youth as a recruitment camp for victims, whom he would shower with gifts and then abuse.
Six said he started by putting his hand on their knees in his car. Five said he invited them to work out and showered with them afterward. That's where he took on the role of "tickle monster," made physical contact and - in at least four cases - sexually assaulted them. Seven victims said he invited them to sleep at his house, where he wrestled or caressed them. Four testified Sandusky's bedtime routine led to sexual assaults.
"It's not the sheer number of victims," said Seth Weber, a retired federal prosecutor. "It's the number of quality witnesses that count. And these were quality witnesses."
The defense has to chip away at the credibility of a witness, which it did by giving the victims a motive other than justice. They were looking for a big payday by suing The Second Mile and Penn State, Sandusky's lawyers asserted.
Amendola called one accuser's neighbor, who said Victim 1 spoke of driving a nice new Jeep and the victim's mother expected to buy a palatial home with proceeds from a lawsuit they planned to file.
Then, there were the investigators who sought out more victims after they got the initial report. Amendola said they were out for blood and backed up that claim with testimony from a man who believed police were prodding him to say Sandusky had abused him, even though he told them Sandusky had not.
The defense launched its strongest and most successful attack on testimony from former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, who testified he saw Sandusky raping a young boy in a locker room shower.
On cross-examination, McQueary conceded that he could only assume Sandusky was having sex with the boy, whose identity has not been determined.
The jury acquitted Sandusky on that charge.
)2012 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
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