In its issue of December 20, 1999, Sports Illustrated honored the extraordinary achievements of a Penn State football coach, retiring after thirty-two years of service. It wasn’t Joe Paterno, the most successful and admired coach in the land, but his defensive coordinator. Top billing for an assistant? Yes, because Jerry Sandusky — “Saint Sandusky,” the magazine called him — was being hailed as a great humanitarian. He was the founder and wholly engaged leader of The Second Mile, originally a foster home and then a wide-ranging charity helping some 100,000 underprivileged children avoid trouble, stay in school, and look ahead to productive adulthood. Sandusky, a churchgoing Methodist who disapproved of profanity, had named his charity after a gospel verse: “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matthew 5:41).
According to Sports Illustrated, Jerry and Dottie Sandusky, a devoted couple since 1966, practiced what they preached. They had welcomed innumerable at-risk boys into their home for fun and companionship and had foster parented a number of them. Some had wanted their closeness to Jerry and Dottie to become permanent. Formal adoption ensued for three boys, who joined three more siblings (two boys and a girl) adopted as infants.
Providing a wholesome environment for other people’s neglected kids, teaching them Christian principles of behavior, and putting them through college had been a challenge accompanied by setbacks. The most recent and most troubled adoptee was a Penn State junior whose birth name was Matt Heichel. As a teenager he had left the Sanduskys’ foster care, only to get in trouble with the law. But at eighteen he had returned, recognizing the importance of the structure they had provided, and begged to be formally adopted and given the cherished name Sandusky. Jerry had welcomed the prodigal son and drawn up a contract with him, promising Penn State tuition as a reward for future good behavior. “My life changed when I came to live here,” Matt told Sports Illustrated. “There were rules, there was discipline, there was caring.”
That impression of Sandusky’s good character remains unshaken among his close friends and all but one of his family members. In the words of Jon Sandusky, “My parents live the Good Book. . . . When people say, ‘Angels walking among us,’ yes, and I have two of them as parents.” But millions of Americans now emphatically disagree. Twelve and a half years after the journalistic tribute, grand jury proceedings that were leaked to the press caused the formerly revered Sandusky to be regarded as a depraved and merciless child molester.
Sandusky’s indictment in November 2011, seven months before his trial, caused such an earthquake at Penn State that the university’s president, a vice president, the athletic director, and Joe Paterno himself — all accused of having winked at one of the malefactor’s crimes — were immediately stripped of their roles. And on June 21, 2012, a jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, found the defendant guilty of forty-five out of forty-eight charges of child molestation. On the following October 9 he heard his sentence: thirty to sixty years in state prison, effectively a life term for a man of sixty-eight.
Even that penalty appeared scarcely commensurate with Sandusky’s misdeeds. In the words of assistant prosecutor Joseph McGettigan at the sentencing, the still unrepentant Sandusky was “the most insidious and depraved of criminals.” The sham philanthropist’s transgressions with boys had ranged “from touching and washing to massaging and kissing to genital grabbing and finally to oral and anal penetration.” And the Second Mile organization had proved to be nothing more than a “victim factory” and a cloak for Sandusky’s “real life of rampant degradation of children.”
If McGettigan and the jury were correct, Sandusky had been afforded thousands of opportunities to molest boys. Only ten victims were featured by the prosecution, and among them only eight actually testified; but those eight reported a dizzying number of outrages. One accuser, Aaron Fisher, affirmed that between 2006 and 2008 he had been forced into oral copulation at least fifty times. Another accuser — he never came forward in his own name, so I will follow trial discretion and call him “Victim 10” — attested to many acts of unwanted oral sex. “Victim 4,” for his part, claimed that on more than forty occasions, occurring two or three times a week, Sandusky had wrestled him into “69” positions in showers, a sauna, and hotel rooms. And most astonishingly, “Victim 9” said he had been molested in Sandusky’s own home about 150 times. On one occasion the lustful aggressor was said to have locked Victim 9 in his soundproofed basement for three days, starving him and raping him anally and orally while Dottie Sandusky, one floor above, was undisturbed by his screams.
In the light of his former reputation for Christian charity, Sandusky’s guilt appeared to establish him as cunning and brazen to an unprecedented degree. Through three decades and more, without arousing denunciation or even suspicion, he had raped innumerable boys, all the while openly displaying affection for them and roughhousing with them in plain view. He had even gotten later-identified victims to pose with him, somehow looking carefree and happy, for photographs included in an autobiography to which he gave the apparently sardonic title Touched. And for three decades he had duped an entire bureaucracy of well-meaning adult associates. Most remarkably, the secret pedophile must have faked the entire personality — straightforward and fun-loving while also pious, sexually prudish, and morally strict — that he presented to his family and friends.
To some, this recasting of a gregarious yet devout linebacker coach as a diabolically ingenious deceiver might seem improbable. It might even prompt an unprejudiced person to begin wondering whether a grotesque injustice has been done. But who, by now, is impartial where Sandusky is concerned? Our minds were made up a decade ago and have subsequently been reinforced by steady and unanimous condemnations in the media. It seems that we positively need a Sandusky figure to stand for our horror of pedophilia. The very suggestion of revisiting the verdict in this case brings the proposer under suspicion of insensitivity to traumatized victims.
It is a fact, however, that a few bold investigators — John Snedden, John Ziegler, Ralph Cipriano, and most comprehensively the science writer Mark Pendergrast in a meticulous book of 2017, The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment (Sunbury Press) — believe they have found the Jekyll-Hyde figure to be just one person after all. In their view, Sandusky never molested anyone. Rather, he was railroaded into prison through a combination of misplaced suspicion, erroneous theory, and grossly unfair maneuvers. If so, he may still fall short of sainthood, but he can be justly regarded as a martyr to America’s ongoing sex panic.
A reflex objection will occur to anyone who remembers the tumult of 2011–2012: Sandusky was convicted on overwhelming evidence of guilt, doubly validated by an independent body in the so-called Freeh report, commissioned by the Penn State Board of Trustees. But that impression is wrong. With two apparent exceptions that we will find to have been spurious, no one ever witnessed the defendant abusing a child. That’s not proof of innocence, of course, but it placed a heavy burden on completely uncorroborated testimony in the trial. And on the one charge that shocked and horrified the world — the sodomizing of a ten-year-old in a campus shower — Sandusky was acquittedon grounds of remoteness in time, questionable recall, lack of proof, and conflicting testimony. As for the Freeh commission, recently exposed internal documents show it to have never been an investigative body; nor were its operations independent. Its leaders, working hand in glove with prosecutors, understood their task to be justifying the trustees’ summary purge of the “abetting” officials Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and Joe Paterno. To that end, Sandusky’s guilt wasn’t passed in review but simply presumed.
Most people believe that if an alleged victim reports having been assaulted by a defendant on as many as a hundred occasions, the likelihood that at least one attack was genuine is thereby increased. If all hundred instances remain unsupported, though, the accuser’s credibility might need to be reviewed. How was it possible for so many crimes to go unnoticed? Why had the victim never complained or shown reluctance to rejoin the abuser’s company? And how could their friendly relations have remained unaffected throughout and far beyond a sequence of coerced encounters?
Schooled by notorious cases, readers may retort that a subtle and ruthless molester can keep a vulnerable child in thrall for years. But the unsophisticated Sandusky, a Boy Scout at heart, was a poor candidate for the role of Svengali. It is hard to picture him exercising mind control over even one boy, to say nothing of his eight trial accusers and the hundreds of others he is alleged to have preyed on with impunity. Indeed, it is doubtful whether any mere mortal could have managed the latter feat.
Even on their face, many of Sandusky’s alleged offenses are hard to take seriously. Victim 4 asserted that Sandusky used to purchase cigarettes for him, once drove him to see a drug dealer, and gave him $50 to buy marijuana, which he smoked in Sandusky’s car. But the teetotaler Sandusky never consumed cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs, much less supplied them to others. Again, Victim 10 testified that Jerry had driven him around in a silver convertible, exposed his penis, and invited the boy to put it in his mouth. Upon Victim 10’s refusal, Sandusky had purportedly threatened to kill him. But the unassuming Sandusky had never been seen behind the wheel of a convertible, and the abrupt demand for sex without prior grooming violated the prosecution’s own model of this supposed pedophile’s modus operandi. Consider, too, Victim 9’s three-day ordeal in Jerry’s locked and soundproofed basement. No such soundproofing existed; the house was small; the two basement doors could be locked only from the inside; Dottie’s lack of curiosity about her husband’s three-day orgy lacks plausibility; and no one who knows Jerry in other contexts thinks him capable of such a rampage.
The multiple charges from each of several accusers appear doubly absurd when they are regarded collectively. The logistical demands of Jerry’s supposed crimes as he was thought to have rushed, day and night, from one unperceived sex act to the next were beyond anyone’s capacity — but especially the capacity of the man in question. While he was still working under the taskmaster Joe Paterno in 1997–1999, Jerry would have had no time for the social and libidinous contacts claimed by Victims 4 and 10. And then there is the period 2005–2008, when Victims 1 and 9 were purportedly taking turns enduring hundreds of violent assaults, many of them in the Sanduskys’ often crowded home. At that time Jerry, already in his sixties, was suffering from prostatitis, dizzy spells, kidney cysts, a brain aneurysm, a hernia, bleeding hemorrhoids, chest pains, headaches, hypothyroidism, drowsiness, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea–conditions that were unknown to his overmatched defense team at his trial.
But Jerry had another, even more telling, medical deficit that would have forestalled priapic feats. He had been born with vestigial testicles that left him almost devoid of testosterone and, necessarily, less interested in sex than other men. That is one reason among several that no pornography was found in his possession; he was closer to a eunuch than a satyr. Revealingly, his conspicuous deformity went unremarked by every “victim,” including all thirty-six who would eventually divide Penn State’s settlement pie of $118 million.
Regard the words and actions of Sandusky’s abusees after the period of their alleged violations. As late as October 2011, or six months into the press campaign to depict Jerry as an ogre, Victim 9 had sat next to him as his guest at a Penn State football game. At age twenty-six, in the year before he joined the prosecution, Victim 4 brought his girlfriend and three-year-old son for a joyful visit with Jerry and Dottie. In a scholarship application written at age twenty in 2004, Victim 7 declared, “Jerry Sandusky, he has helped me understand so much about myself. He is such a kind and caring gentleman, and I will never forget him.” And Victims 1, 3, and 6 also continued paying cordial visits to the Sanduskys in later years. The simplest way to account for such anomalies is to assume that Jerry’s crimes must have been invented.
But invented by whom? And why?
* * * *
When an authentic serial abuser is finally brought to justice, it typically happens because one victim goes public and emboldens others harboring clear memories of their ordeals. The Sandusky case was strikingly different. Although seven accusers had already surfaced before Jerry’s grand jury indictment in November 2011, not a single one of them had come forward without being either prodded or lured. None of them had ever said a word to anyone about having been molested. Indeed, six of the first seven initially denied that Sandusky had ever behaved inappropriately with them. In April 2011, for example, Victim 7 assured a grand jury that Sandusky had never approached him in a sexual way. And in July of the same year, Victim 3 told two policemen,
I lost touch with [Sandusky] around the time I went into tenth grade. I was in trouble a lot then: in and out of foster homes and stuff. He made me feel special, giving me stuff and spending time with me. I just always took it that he was trying to make sure I kept out of trouble. I don’t believe any of this stuff is true and hope that he’s found not guilty.
The key point to register here is that every “memory” of an assault by Sandusky came into the accuser’s consciousness later than the time of the putative event — so much later, in fact, that nearly all of them can justly be called products of the Sandusky scandal itself. As Jerry’s indictment and trial loomed nearer and his demonization in the press became more lurid, a few Second Milers “remembered” that they, too, had been abused. Even men who had expected to serve as Jerry’s character witnesses — including, stupefyingly, his own formerly grateful son Matt — now swelled the list of victims. Matt’s flip was the latest of them all. Only after listening to Victim 4’s colorful narrative on the second day of the trial did he “realize” he had been serially abused for years.
Because several of the new avowals contradicted earlier statements, the difference had to be somehow accounted for. The proffered explanations turned out to sound remarkably alike. These working-class men from no-nonsense central Pennsylvania were now expressing themselves in psychobabble. “I tried to block this out of my brain for years,” testified Victim 3. Victim 7 swore he had “sort of pushed [the abuse] into the back of my mind, sort of like closing a door. . . .” Victim 4 said the same thing: “I have spent, you know, so many years burying this in the back of my mind forever.” More poetically, Victim 5 chided Sandusky from the witness stand, “I have been left with deep, painful wounds that you caused, and that had been buried in the garden of my heart for many years.” And Matt Sandusky, having sworn to the police in 2009 that Jerry had never molested him, now maintained that a “dissociated personality” had made that statement. “My child self,” he would tell Oprah Winfrey, “had protected my adult self.”
Prior to testifying, a substantial number of damning witnesses had been subjected to psychotherapy of the kind that aims at retrieving buried memories of trauma. This was not a coincidence but a strategy benefiting both prosecutors and injury lawyers, who were now signing up young clients on a contingency-fee basis and prepping them not only to nail Sandusky in court but also to reap fortunes in compensation from Penn State. The ideal result would be to convince ex-Second Milers, “therapeutically,” that they had suffered at Sandusky’s hands; but if they only played along with the pretense, the same end would be served. Victim 9, for example, may or may not have believed his story of 150 recently recalled molestations, but he and his attorney would come away from Penn State’s contrition fund with a cool $20 million. As the PTSD survivor posted on Facebook with the award secured, “Shit I’m balling like a mother fuck yea $.”
The Commonwealth’s prosecutors and its new attorney general, Linda Kelly, made no secret of the fact that their case against Sandusky rested on recovered memories. The traumatized witnesses, Joseph McGettigan asserted in court, “had tried to bury” their awful experiences, and they still “don’t want to remember” them. The unspoken corollary was that if someone has become convinced of his abuse only through struggle a decade after the fact, the newly acquired mental scene must be genuine. Vagueness, McGettigan instructed the jury, can be another sign of authenticity: sometimes “the honest admission of the lack of memory about . . . minor detail gives the clearest indication of the absolute truth of the painful events. . . .”
This generous rule — the reality of an event can be validated either by recalling it or by forgetting parts of it — was an enabling assumption of our calamitous recovered memory movement in the 1980s and 1990s. That moral frenzy was a misguided hunt for previously unsuspected molesters. Like our zealous theoreticians back then, McGettigan was evading consideration of how a “repressed memory” typically gets crystallized — namely, through coaxing by a therapist steeped in psychodynamic theory. Almost inevitably, a molestation “memory” that is “retrieved” in that manner will be a product of suggestion, or an imparting of the therapist’s prior certainty that the client must have been abused.
If the judge and jury had grasped the role of psychotherapy in the case against Sandusky, the bulk of incriminating testimony would have been deemed inadmissible. Even under Pennsylvania rules, whose vigilance against judicial pseudoscience still lags behind the national norm, a memory generated under therapeutic pressure wouldn’t pass muster. And a more astute defense team than Sandusky’s could have shown that the alleged molestations bore every classical trait of false recollections.
Such scenarios betray their illusory origin by being set at indefinite or incongruous times and places; they shift and proliferate capriciously; they clash with well-established facts about the perpetrator and/or the victim; corroborative evidence of their reality is lacking; and intimate associates of the victim never noticed a thing. The stories told by all eight of Sandusky’s trial accusers fit that pattern. Most tellingly, no accuser charged the inveterate moralizer Sandusky with having transgressed his own rules. It was as if their savage molestation had occurred in dreams, disconnected from the real mentor whom they oddly continued to admire.
* * * *
Readers may now be entertaining some doubt about Sandusky’s guilt, but not enough doubt, perhaps, to dispel certain impressions that were engraved on the public mind in 2011–2012. Hadn’t the case started from a convincing admission by Aaron Fisher (“Victim 1”) that, over a number of years, he had been groomed, fondled, and then coerced into oral sex? Hadn’t the graduate assistant Mike McQueary, in a horrific shower incident, seen Jerry sodomizing a ten-year-old? And hadn’t a Penn State janitor seen Jerry fellating a boy during another shower?
The correct answers to those questions are no, no, and no.
Aaron Fisher’s version of events evolved radically between 2008, when he was first asked whether Sandusky had abused him, and 2012 in the trial. At age fourteen the athletic and sexually precocious Fisher had tired of Jerry’s hovering attentions and begun to suspect there was something creepy about them. But when his mother had quizzed him about sexual advances, he had replied unequivocally: Jerry was hands-on but not in that way.
Still, Dawn Daniels Fisher persisted. Until then she had regarded Sandusky as “some sort of an angel,” “a real dumb jock with a heart of gold”; but now the hint of perversion put matters in a new light. A neighbor later testified to having heard her say, ”I’m going to get a lawyer and make a million dollars off Jerry Sandusky,” and “I’m going to own that motherfucker’s house.” Those declarations, not some misdeed by Jerry, marked the founding moment of the entire saga. Dawn passed her reluctant son along to social workers, a recovered memory therapist, and police interrogators, all of whom assumed at once that Sandusky was a pedophile. They continually urged Aaron to bring up more drastic recollections. He eventually complied, but with so much confusion and backsliding that the first two of three grand juries refused to hand down an indictment.
The central figure here was the psychotherapist, Mike Gillum. As he would later expound in a book bearing both Fisher’s name and his own, Gillum subscribed to the disproven idea that psychological traumas are immediately forgotten and bottled up in the unconscious. A therapist, he believed, can gradually extract a true recollection by painstakingly “peeling an onion,” or encouraging the patient to face some of the truth, then more, and eventually all of it. Telling Aaron he would help and protect him until the memories of abuse could be safely expressed, Gillum began spending many hours each day with the boy and making himself constantly available by phone. As Aaron would later avow, “It wasn’t until I was fifteen and started seeing Mike that I realized the horror.” Nor was it necessary for him to tell Gillum what he thought had happened. The therapist prided himself on guessing the truth and stating it to the boy, who would simply nod his head or say “Yes” or “No” — and “No” would call for further probing.
Once Aaron had begun to fantasize repugnant scenes and to entertain their reality, he was ready to be interviewed by the police. But Gillum tagged along, sitting in on every session and, by his very presence, reminding Aaron of what he was expected to say. Even so, Aaron’s compliance was always hesitant and partial. Gillum would later tell Mark Pendergrast that it had taken him six months (it was actually seven) to get his patient to state in so many words that Sandusky had forced oral sex upon him — a charge that Aaron retracted when quizzed about it in the first of his grand jury appearances.
Throughout the investigation and finally on the witness stand, Fisher was unable to keep his abuse narratives straight or to fit them into a believable context of circumstances. But attorneys for the Commonwealth simplified matters by aggregating the supposed events. When prosecutor McGettigan asked, “Did the defendant put his penis in your mouth more than twenty-five times over the course of 2007, 2008?”, Aaron needed only to reply, “It was — yeah.” And when McGettigan then asked whether Aaron had fellated Sandusky at least twenty-five times, he agreed again.
The tears accompanying this pained exchange — tears that may well have expressed a Judas’s shame — were all the jury needed to be convinced of Aaron’s victimhood. But the events to which he attested made no rational sense. In 2007 and 2008 Aaron, at ages fourteen and fifteen, was already known for boasting about his heterosexual exploits. What, then, could possibly have induced the track star and accomplished wrestler to submit to Sandusky’s forced oral intercourse and to reciprocate it again and again, often returning to the abuser’s home for further degradation and disgust? Fisher’s story, famously endorsed by Chris Cuomo on CNN, is liable to the same objections as the others.
* * * *
When questioned in November 2010, the former Penn State quarterback Mike McQueary asserted that on the night of March 2, 2002, he had caught sight of an apparently sexual encounter between Jerry Sandusky and a prepubescent boy in the university’s Lasch athletic facility. He had told Coach Joe Paterno what he had witnessed; Paterno had notified his superior, Athletic Director Tim Curley; Curley had told Vice President Gary Schultz; and Curley and Schultz had presented the matter to President Graham Spanier. But no one had involved the off-campus police. The round of consultations had issued in nothing more drastic than an admonition to Sandusky never to bring another Second Mile boy onto the campus. When that fact emerged, it became the signature outrage of the Sandusky affair. All four officials were sacked for having allowed Sandusky’s assumed predations to continue thereafter, and those who survived (Paterno died of lung cancer six weeks later) were criminally prosecuted for child endangerment.
A good deal, however, was left to be desired in McQueary’s account. In the first place, he got the date of the shower wrong not once but twice, and this was not a minor flaw. McQueary contended that the incident occurred on March 1, 2002, and that he went to see Paterno on the following day. That meeting had indeed taken place, but when its actual date — February 10, 2001 — was ascertained, McQueary and the Sandusky prosecutors adjusted the shower date by more than a year to February 9, thereby rescuing the idea of a speedy report on McQueary’s part. But by now it is fairly certain that the shower occurred on December 29, 2000. If so, McQueary’s original recollection was off by fifteen months. Could he have been so confused about the witnessing of a horrible crime?
Still more significantly, McQueary now appears to have waited more than five weeks before bothering to inform Paterno. In that case, he could hardly have been sounding the alarm about a pedophilic rape by Paterno’s former assistant coach. Nor is it easy to believe that Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno, all with spotless reputations, could have brushed off such an atrocity on their campus. No one closely acquainted with Paterno in particular — even more celebrated for his ethical rigor than for his victories on the field — could imagine such a thing.
McQueary’s own subsequent behavior toward Sandusky also deserves to be pondered. The two men were on cordial terms both before and after the shower incident. Several months later, McQueary agreed to participate in a celebrity golf tournament that bore Sandusky’s name. Another such event followed. And soon afterwards McQueary was seen joking around with Sandusky at an Easter Seals charity event. He could hardly have done so knowing that a pedophile’s assaults were going unpunished and unreported to the police.
According to the grand jury presentment of November 2011, McQueary had seen a young boy “being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.” Although that charge was modified for the trial and still declared unproven, it was the centerpiece of the entire scandal and the trigger for the dismissal of the four Penn State officials. But it wasn’t true. When McQueary saw how Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach had characterized his grand jury testimony in the presentment, he complained to her by email, “I feel my words are slightly twisted and not totally portrayed correctly. . . . I cannot say 1,000 percent sure that it was sodomy.” In replying, Eshbach didn’t dispute McQueary’s point. Rather, she told him to keep his objections to himself. “I know that a lot of this stuff is incorrect,” she wrote, “and that it is hard not to respond. But you can’t.” McQueary, on his own, had plenty of trouble keeping his story straight, but here we observe that the attorney general’s office overruled him in order to preserve its most sensational charge against Sandusky.
What had Mike McQueary witnessed a decade before speaking to the authorities? Some valuable information came to light in testimony by others. Upon entering the Lasch Building locker room, it was learned, McQueary had heard some “slapping noises” that stopped at once. Then, looking obliquely from a mirror through a glass door into the neighboring shower room, he had thought he glimpsed a boy being pulled back by a man’s arm. If he had actually been witnessing a rape by the fifty-seven-year-old Sandusky, it is unlikely that the twenty-six-year-old, 6’4”, 220-pound McQueary wouldn’t have intervened.
Instead, he had closed his locker and gone upstairs to phone his father, who summoned him and his own boss, a physician, to review the event. After persistent quizzing, McQueary was evidently mollified. He hadn’t, after all, observed a sex act; nor had the boy appeared at all distressed. Moreover, there was an innocent explanation of what had startled him. Sandusky was known to shower openly with boys after workouts or games with them. That had been common practice in the recreation center operated by his own father — his model of charitable conduct. When Jerry “horsed around” (however inadvisedly) with youths in public showers, he was taking the role of their buddy or big brother.
The allaying of McQueary’s doubts explains why he waited so long to alert Paterno to the shower incident. Even then, as Paterno’s widow now recalls, the visit lasted no more than three minutes and wasn’t primarily about Sandusky. McQueary, Sue Paterno has stated, was begging to be considered for a vacancy in the football coaching staff. Paterno had gruffly dismissed the idea and hastened off to a scheduled meeting.
The best evidence for Sandusky’s blamelessness in the contested incident was provided by the “shower boy” himself, who had been not ten, as the prosecution and media surmised, but almost fourteen at the time. This was a twenty-four-year-old ex-Marine named Allan Myers, who, importantly, had remained on excellent terms with Sandusky in all the subsequent years. Jerry and Dottie had even taken him with them on two trips to California, and he had shared their household in the summer of 2005. At Myers’s request, Jerry had also given the commencement address at the boy’s high school graduation. And later, the two had been photographed arm in arm at Myers’s wedding. Most recently, Myers had driven hours to attend the funeral of Sandusky’s mother.
Until the McQueary tale went public, Myers had no idea he would figure in Sandusky’s case. He knew, though, that Jerry was suspected of terrible misdeeds. Grilled by state police officers on September 20, 2011, he rebuffed them for their coercive style of interrogation and defiantly asserted, “I will never have anything bad to say about Jerry.” Significantly, he volunteered that as a boy he had often showered with Sandusky after workouts and that, in the words of the police report, “at no time did Sandusky do anything that made him uncomfortable.” Myers also wrote a supportive letter to two newspapers and the Pennsylvania attorney general. “Jerry’s been there for me for thirteen years,” he declared. “I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
Two months later, having realized that he himself had been the boy in the shower, Myers gave a sworn statement to Sandusky’s legal representatives. Sandusky, he said, had consistently behaved as a father to him. As for the night at issue,
I would usually work out one or two days a week, but this particular night is very clear in my mind. We were in the shower and Jerry and I were slapping towels at each other to sting each other. I would slap the walls and slide on the shower floor, which I am sure you could have heard from the wooden locker area. While we were engaged in fun as I have described, I heard the sound of a wooden locker door close. . . . I never saw who closed the locker. The grand jury report says that Coach McQueary said he observed Jerry and I engaged in sexual activity. That is not the truth and McQueary is not telling the truth. Nothing occurred that night in the shower.
When Sandusky was first interviewed about the incident, he suggested that the questioner get in touch with “the boy.” That wasn’t done, but Jerry’s reference indicated that he still recalled the Lasch Building occurrence and the identity of his companion. Later he affirmed that Myers had been that person. And Myers’s recollection coincided with his own. The goings-on, Jerry recalled, must have been friendly slap boxing and/or towel snapping and Myers’s sliding along the soapy floor.
But two weeks after giving his sworn statement of exculpation to Jerry’s lawyers, Myers fell in with an attorney of his own, a sex abuse specialist named Andrew Shubin, who was advertising his services to prospective Sandusky victims. Under legal coaching, Myers promptly metamorphosed into “Victim 2.” Shubin, however, shrewdly ensured that Myers would be unavailable to either side for trial testimony. Instead, he held his client in readiness for the big prize, a $6.9 million settlement from Penn State. Readers can decide for themselves which Allan Myers is more credible, the one who became a multimillionaire under Shubin’s guidance or the one who, unsolicited, had cleared Sandusky of wrongdoing and credited him with having turned his life around.
Neither Aaron Fisher nor Mike McQueary had proved reliable enough, by himself, to put Sandusky away; nor did they make a winning pair. But the attorney general’s office never contemplated allowing Jerry to go free. Instead, a plan was evidently drawn up to convict him in the court of public opinion. In the spring of 2011 the most damning claims against him began to be leaked to a cub reporter, Sara Ganim. She would win a Pulitzer Prize, awarded two months before the trial, for articles bearing such unsubtle headlines as “Former Coach Jerry Sandusky Used Charity to Molest Kids.” As those articles kept coming and getting amplified in the national media, the possibility that Jerry might be acquitted melted away.
In the sensational atmosphere of the hour, it was to be expected that further “survivors,” real or feigned, would materialize to shore up the charges of Fisher and McQueary. But the attorney general’s office preferred not to leave the matter to chance. State troopers were sent out to interrogate as many as 600 ex-Second Milers, telling them that Sandusky had already been identified as a pedophile and prodding them for revelations. All the searchers got for their pains, however, was a large file of testimonials to Jerry’s unfailing generosity, protection, and encouragement to clean living. As one police staffer wrote grudgingly in a memo, “We have recently been interviewing kids who don’t believe the allegations as published and believe Sandusky is a great role model for them and others to emulate.”
But then the prosecutors caught a lucky break. Or did luck have nothing to do with it? We recall that Aaron Fisher’s mother, the instigator of the entire campaign, was said to have envisioned Sandusky’s downfall as a bonanza for herself. Now, with the whole case threatening to collapse, she urged the attorney general’s office to interview several former Second Milers who had once been photographed together in Sandusky’s presence. She was able to identify the boys who would soon join her son as Victims 4, 5, and 7; and one of them may have prompted the investigators to contact Victim 3 as well. They had known both one another and Aaron as Second Milers, and Aaron was back in contact with some of them. If they hadn’t previously been aware of the likely riches awaiting Sandusky victims, they surely learned about them now.
All of those young men soon acquired contingency-fee lawyers. Two of them chose Allan Myers’s future attorney, Andrew Shubin, who referred them to therapists who would assist them in “remembering” abuses. In addition, all were subjected to pumping by officers who believed in Sandusky’s guilt. And, of course, all were exposed to the media’s tales of his unspeakable crimes. The several forms of pressure worked to the same end: the production of fictions that, individually ludicrous, could be strung together in an intimidating series.
A predictable result ensued when Attorney General Kelly coordinated the Sandusky indictment with the announcement of a telephone hotline inviting more survivors to present themselves. A long parade of dubious candidates then began to assemble. Victim 10 may well have been one of them. He needed no inducement to phone the hotline, enroll himself with the ubiquitous Andrew Shubin, and spin a fantastic yarn about Sandusky’s crimes.
Victim 10 was already known to the police; he had been in and out of prison, first for burglary in 2004 and then for burglary and assault in 2007. But now his criminal record — which would go on to include further convictions for impersonation, criminal solicitation, robbery, and reckless endangerment — could be blamed on trauma inflicted by Sandusky. He testified that Jerry had taken liberties with him once or twice a month during 1997, 1998, and part of 1999, finally breaking down the boy’s resistance to mutual oral sex. Further episodes were added at the trial, including an assault in the family basement. But curiously, neither Jerry nor Dottie recalled ever having met him. Nevertheless, the jury found him credible and so did Penn State, to the tune of $5.5 million.
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When charges like Victim 10’s are believed without any evidence to support them, a corrupting effect spills over into other aspects of a trial. In illustration, let us finally reflect on Victim 8, whose very existence has never been established. Prosecutors believed they had struck gold when a May 2011 dragnet of campus janitors turned up a possible witness, Ronald Petrosky. He declared that one night around 2000 a fellow janitor, Jim Calhoun, had told him he had just been terrified by the sight of a man licking a boy’s genitals during a Lasch Building shower. Calhoun himself couldn’t testify; by June 2012 he was suffering from dementia. But Petrosky testified on his behalf, even reproducing what he imagined to be Calhoun’s thought process from a dozen years before. Petrosky now believed that Calhoun had named Jerry as the perpetrator.
But Petrosky’s recollection was faulty. On May 15, 2011, when Jim Calhoun’s Alzheimer’s was still at an early stage, he had been interviewed by state trooper Robert Yakicic. Asked what he thought of Sandusky, Calhoun had brightened and said he was “a pretty good guy.” Did Calhoun recall the shower incident? Absolutely, and he felt that even now he would recognize the abuser if he encountered him. Was it Sandusky? Calhoun answered at once, “No, I don’t believe it was.” An incredulous Yakicic asked, “You don’t?” Calhoun became more emphatic: “I don’t believe it was. I don’t think Sandusky was the person. It wasn’t him. There’s no way. Sandusky never did anything at all that I can see.”
The exculpating tape was in the possession of Sandusky’s lead attorney, Joe Amendola, but he couldn’t make use of it at the trial. Indeed, he may not have even known he had it. The tape had been included among a “document dump” of 12,000 pages that was provided to the defense only ten days before the trial began; and Judge John Cleland, unresponsive to desperate pleas for postponement, refused to allow sufficient time for the materials to be analyzed. The jury found Petrosky’s account compelling and pronounced a guilty verdict on every charge that stemmed from it.
That result constituted a legal landmark of sorts. Petrosky’s recollection was hearsay at a twelve-year remove. There was no known victim who might identify himself. Something had been done, but what, and by whom? Judge Cleland, called upon to rule whether Petrosky’s testimony was admissible, chose to ask lead prosecutor Frank Fina for advice: “Can the jury consider that other crimes have been committed in the shower room and therefore the pattern would sustain a guilty verdict on #8?” The gratified Fina of course concurred. When Judge Cleland then pronounced himself satisfied, the whole rationale of the Sandusky conviction — namely, that one dubious anecdote deserves another — was made explicit.
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After Sandusky’s trial, Aaron Fisher was awarded $7.5 million from Penn State’s bounteous expiation fund, no questions asked. The example proved contagious. Four of Fisher’s acquaintances from the remote town of Lock Haven, PA, would eventually enroll as accusers, and the “Lock Haven Five” would come away with $30 million in all.
Meanwhile, at age 77, having spent the first five years of his incarceration in solitary confinement, the once ebullient Sandusky is a forgotten man. But he has not forgotten his principles. His fellow inmates — none of whom, I am told, regard him as a criminal — have found him more solicitous of their welfare than his own. And here is part of the Christmas letter that I among others received from him at the end of 2020: “Jesus came as an answer for a troubled world. He came to expose those caught up in their thirst for power and their evil ways to get it and use it. He came not to overthrow them, but to show a different way to live. . . .” You can dispute the claim, but the writer’s sincerity is transparent.
Jerry Sandusky walked the second mile with thousands of troubled kids, a few of whom seized an offered chance to enrich themselves by betraying him. It remains to be seen whether anyone will walk the second mile with him.
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If you find this essay convincing, please circulate it and, if possible, link or repost it. Meanwhile, Jerry continues to press for a new trial but is desperately short of money for legal fees. Please consider making a contribution to The Impact Fund, c/o Dick Anderson, P.O. Box 1151, State College, PA 16804.