Bob Costas interview: Did Jerry Sandusky make things worse for himself?

Jerry Sandusky might only have hurt himself in the court of public opinion by giving an interview to Bob Costas Monday. Lawyers say the interview was a risky bid to clear Sandusky's name. 

Peter Kramer/NBC/AP
NBC News anchor Brian Williams (l.) talks with Bob Costas about Costas's interview with Jerry Sandusky during NBC News' 'Rock Center With Brian Williams' Monday.

The decision by Jerry Sandusky's lawyer to let the former Penn State assistant coach answer specific questions and haltingly refute allegations of pedophilia in a Monday interview with NBC's Bob Costas represents an aggressive and risky defense strategy.

The goal of defense lawyer Joe Amendola was clearly to raise doubts about claims that Mr. Sandusky is a hardened sexual predator and instead suggest that he is a goofy, overgrown kid "horsing around" with boys who were "enjoying themselves" in a nonsexual way. Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of minors. 

As evidenced by high-profile cases such as the Casey Anthony trial, legal proceedings are not open and shut cases, no matter how persuasive the evidence is to the public. But Sandusky's interview with Mr. Costas Monday might have merely added to the public presumption of guilt surrounding Sandusky.

Sandusky's words and behavior bore striking similarities to the kind of coping strategies that sexual predators use to deflect guilt and psychologically survive being confronted with their crimes, says Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., lawyer who represents victims of childhood sexual abuse.

"No sense can be made of Sandusky's position or his lawyer's decision to allow him to speak," says Mr. Anderson.  Denying and minimizing "is the mantle that the molester always dons when confronted with the reality of their crimes, both in the court of public opinion and in the courtroom."

In the Costas interview, Sandusky denied that he's a pedophile, though he admitted that he "horsed around" with boys in showers, occasionally patting their legs, snapping towels, and hugging them, but "without intent of sexual contact."

The allegations against Sandusky of child sex-abuse and its potential coverup have stunned Penn State University and its storied football program. The university's board of trustees fired iconic head coach Joe Paterno, who, according to the Sandusky indictment, was told of Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in the showers of the Penn State football complex in 2002 but did not notify the police. The university's president was also fired, and the assistant coach who, according to the indictment, witnessed the shower-room abuse, Mike McQueary, was suspended.

The grand jury indictment goes into uncomfortable detail about how Sandusky allegedly sexually abused eight boys over the span of 15 years and suggests that local police, prosecutors, and school officials chose to protect the institution's reputation instead of the children. 

In the Monday interview, Costas asked Sandusky if he "fit the classic MO of many pedophiles," to which Sandusky answered, "Well, you might think that. I don't know. I didn't go around seeking out every young person for sexual needs that I've helped."

Asked if he was sexually attracted to underage boys, Sandusky answered, "Am I sexually attracted to underage boys … sexually attracted? You know … no, I enjoy young people … I love to be around them. Umm, I, no … I'm not sexually attracted to young boys."

Mr. Amendola also maintained his client's innocence, telling CNN on Tuesday that several of the victims will deny the sex allegations, and that the supposed victim from 2002 came to Sandusky's house as recently as two years ago with his girlfriend and children.

"They have been throwing everything they can throw up against the wall," Amendola said. "And they're saying, [out of] all these accusations, some of them have to be true. But when you take it apart, they don't even have victims in several of their cases."

Defense attorney Mark Geragos, who successfully helped to defend the late singer Michael Jackson against child-abuse charges, saw Sandusky's interview and claim of innocence as a moment for Americans to "take a deep breath ... before we go and say this is a done deal," according to CNN.

But other lawyers said Sandusky's decision to talk about the case is likely to hurt him. Some point out that Sandusky actually admitted to breaking the law, since it's illegal for professional mentors in Pennsylvania to shower naked with their charges.

“He’s just given up his Fifth Amendment rights not to incriminate himself. All of that can and will be used against him,” New York attorney Tom Harvey told the New York Daily News.

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