Appeal to be made in Sandusky case
Jerry Sandusky cried "conspiracy" last Tuesday as a judge sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison, a veritable life sentence, for sexually abusing 10 boys over the last two decades.
In a rambling statement, the revered coach-turned-reviled convict blamed an overly dramatic accuser for sparking a media storm that led to his demise.
His attorney, Joseph Amendola, said they might have been able to produce evidence of the supposed conspiracy if only the judge, John M. Cleland had given them more than seven months to prepare for trial.
The lack of preparation time will be a key component of Sandusky's appeal, but will it matter?
Case law in Pennsylvania varies on the discretion judges have in granting or denying continuances, the legal mechanism for delaying a trial.
In a decision last week, the state Superior Court ruled a judge should have granted a delay in a Blair County murder case because the defendant's newly hired attorney only had two weeks to prepare.
In a 2003 decision, the Superior Court found that a Luzerne County judge erred in allowing a trial to start without the defendant, absent because of a death in his family.
Under state law, Sandusky's attorneys must prove Cleland abused his discretion by putting efficiency and scheduling above Sandusky's right to due process.
Even if Amendola and his co-counsel, Karl Rominger, had a year or more to prepare their defense, could they have overcome the overwhelming evidence of eight victims and other witnesses who said Sandusky routinely violated the youths he was entrusted to mentor?
Amendola first broached the conspiracy theory after Sandusky's canceled preliminary hearing last December, alleging some accusers may have colluded to frame the ex-coach in hopes for a monetary settlement from his charity, The Second Mile, and Penn State.
"I can think of $9 million right off the top of my head from The Second Mile, in terms of their assets and I can think of countless millions when I think of Penn State and the deep pockets," Amendola said, adding that he wanted to review of accusers' telephone records, email and other material. "What greater motivation could there be than money?"
Only, Sandusky's attorneys never introduced that material at trial and only broached his theory in passing.
They called a neighbor of the first accuser to go to the authorities, Victim 1, who told jurors of a 2008 conversation in which the boy purportedly boasted, "When this is over, I'll have a nice new Jeep." The neighbor, Josh James Fravel Sr., said the boy's mother told him around the same time that she wanted to buy a big house in the country, where her dogs "can roam free," once the Sandusky matter was settled.
Victim 1's mother denied Fravel's assertions. She acknowledged hiring an attorney after the allegations became public because she wanted to "keep the press away from my family." Fravel, she said, had given reporters her new address and attempted to blackmail her to keep the information private.
Joe Paterno wouldn't have helped, either.
Amendola, since Sandusky's arrest last November, often invoked the good will of Paterno in his pitch that Sandusky was somehow the victim of a conspiracy to embarrass Penn State. He argued the university made a "rush to judgment" when it fired Paterno and Spanier without evidence or due process.
"Joe Paterno, who did so much for Penn State, the university, so much for this community, so much for so many people, was summarily fired by phone without there being one piece of evidence," Amendola said. "The question is, why did that happen? How did it happen? When you start thinking about conspiracies you say, 'how could the board of trustees do that? How could the board of trustees engage the services of Judge (former FBI Director Louis J.) Freeh, have a report that's based on assumptions and innuendos without even interviewing the key people involved as the basis for the report, and then come out and say all of these people were involved in this conspiracy to cover up?'"
Amendola contended former assistant coach Mike McQueary glossed over a February 2001 assault he witnessed in a team shower (because, as Sandusky claimed, nothing sexual happened) and that Paterno and others in the university hierarchy were unaware of the heinous abuses they were accused of covering up.
"If anyone thinks Coach Paterno, Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley were told by Mike McQueary he saw Jerry Sandusky engaging in anal sex in the shower and they simply said to Jerry Sandusky, 'don't bring kids on campus anymore and take showers with them,' I'm telling you that's absolutely absurd," Amendola argued.
Only the prince of Amendola's argument, Paterno, is also the unraveling of that very theory.
Paterno, in his testimony to the grand jury, said McQueary made him aware that the conduct in the shower was sexual and graphic in nature. McQueary and Paterno each testified about how the other appeared shaken and disheartened by the allegations.
Paterno's is the same line of testimony that compromises the complaints of his supporters, that he has been unfairly portrayed as all-knowing and all-powerful, that the email evidence cited in the Freeh report is flimsy.
Sworn testimony about Paterno's involvement in the alleged cover-up and his interest in the 1999 probe would be more concrete than a cryptic, subject-to-interpretation, second-hand email.
But, there can be no denying the words of Paterno's own testimony: he knew Sandusky's actions in the shower were sexual in nature.
The only out for anyone pushing a conspiracy theory or questioning how much the former head coach knew would be to determine if his answers to the grand jury were influenced by what he was told in the decade after McQueary went to his home.
It's certainly possible Paterno realized later, from talking with McQueary or Curley or others, that the acts in the shower were sexual in nature. But no one questioned him on that during his appearance before the grand jury or after the fact. Now that he's dead, his true understanding of what happened and when he arrived at that conclusion may be gone too.
Sandusky's attorneys reiterated after his sentencing last Tuesday that they would appeal his conviction and sentence. Under state law, they can first file post-sentencing motions or bring an appeal directly to the state Superior Court.
Post-sentence motions, which often include a petition for a judge to reconsider his or her sentence, must be filed within 10 days and the judge must rule within 120 days. If the judge does not rule within 120 days, they are automatically denied.
If the attorneys appeal directly to the state Superior Court, they must do so within 30 days. If they file post-sentence motions first, they can appeal to the Superior Court up to 30 days after the judge issues his rulings.
Cleland, before sentencing Sandusky, dismissed the notion of a grand plot to convict the ex-coach - a harbinger of things to come in his court and in the appellate ranks.
"Like all conspiracy theories," he said, Sandusky's "makes a leap from the undeniable to the unbelievable."