A grinning Jerry Sandusky, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, entered a Centre County courtroom Friday morning, waving to a small handful of supporters. The former Penn State assistant football coach is almost four years into a 30 to 60-year sentence for child sexual abuse, most of which has been spent in solitary confinement for his own protection.
Two direct appeals have been denied, so Sandusky is trying a move called a Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing. The question before the judge is not whether he is innocent, but whether his original lawyer, Joseph Amendola, represented him insufficiently during the trial.
In court Friday, Sandusky took the stand for the first time to outline his argument. In fact, that was the first point of his argument: he had every intention of taking the stand during the trial, until his lawyer discouraged him from doing so. Sandusky felt that put him at a disadvantage.
He had other concerns as well, like the last-minute decision to waive his right to a preliminary hearing. Sandusky said Amendola laid out all the negatives of a preliminary hearing, without offering possible positive outcomes, like a chance to see how the state intended to try the case.
Amendola took the stand on Friday as well. He said the decision to waive the preliminary hearing was due to a deal with the prosecution that would prevent further charges being filed against Sandusky. He said he explained that to Sandusky, who agreed with the plan.
He also said Sandusky agreed that testifying was too risky, in light of Matt Sandusky’s allegations of abuse. Matt Sandusky, Jerry Sandusky’s adopted son, originally intended to testify to his father’s innocence and his reversal threw the defense into chaos.
The other major point of contention concerns a television interview Sandusky and Amendola did with Bob Costas. Sandusky testified that the interview was just supposed to be Amendola, but right before they went live, he encouraged Sandusky to call in and testify to his innocence. The interview was widely seen as a disaster. When asked if he was sexually attracted to young boys, Sandusky allowed a multiple-second pause before hemming and hawing his way through a negative response.
Sandusky says he wasn’t properly prepared for that interview, and wasn’t made aware that it could be used in a court of law. Since he didn’t end up taking the stand, that impromptu live questioning served as Sandusky’s only testimony.
Amendola said Sandusky had been increasingly concerned about how his case was being tried in the court of public opinion. He was eager for a chance to improve his standing in the media. Amendola said he offered the Costas interview as a chance to do that, and felt he had prepared Sandusky sufficiently. Amendola said Sandusky had a chance to say no to the interview request.
This all leads to the essential disagreement on trial here. Was Jerry Sandusky a “legal novice,” blindly trusting an ill-prepared lawyer who missed a chance to prove Sandusky's innocence? Or did Joseph Amendola and his client agree on a plan of action, a plan that wasn’t sufficient to overcome evidence of guilt?
Friday was the first of three days of hearings on that subject. Hearings will continue Monday and Tuesday.