Why the Penn State sex abuse saga could go on for years

The FBI is investigating whether Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky broke federal law in sexually abusing boys. The university faces civil suits seeking compensation for Sandusky's victims.

Art Liens/Reuters
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky (L), his defense attorney Joe Amendola and wife Dottie (R) look on in this courtroom sketch as the verdict is read during Sandusky's child sex abuse trial in Bellefonte, PA June 22, 2012. A jury found Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 child sex abuse charges.

The trial and guilty verdict of former Penn State defensive coach Jerry Sandusky took exactly two weeks, but the saga is nowhere close to an end.

Not only do his attorneys plan to mount an appeal, but Mr. Sandusky, the university, and top school administrators also face additional legal battles that are expected to stretch on for years.

A jury in Bellefonte, Pa. deliberated for 21 hours over two days before delivering a verdict late Friday, finding Sandusky guilty on 45 of the 48 counts against him involving sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period. He will likely face a sentence of life in prison.

IN PICTURES: Fallout from the Penn State scandal

Legal experts say the overwhelming number of accusers and evidence, ranging from love letters Sandusky penned to an eyewitness testimony to the abuse, were too much of a hurdle for the defense to overcome. They helped establish a narrative that Sandusky was a predatory pedophile who used a charity he founded to help at-risk children to groom victims, and the high-powered athletic culture he existed in helped enable the abuse over years.

Sandusky did not testify; instead surrogates vouched for his character and questioned the motives of the prosecution witnesses. The rare times the public heard his side of the story were two media interviews he gave shortly following his November 2011 arrest in which he gave meandering answers to questions related to his relationship with children.

Daniel Filler, a law professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia and a former public defender in Pennsylvania, says “the only hope Sandusky had was to testify” but the media appearance doomed that opportunity.

“For better or for worse, Jerry Sandusky gave an audition about what it would be like on the stand when he talked in the press and his lawyers looked at the audition and didn’t like what they saw,” Mr. Filler says. “If he couldn’t even answer the simplest, most straightforward questions with a clear denial, I don’t think you could have coached him.”

What happens next is an appeal by his attorneys who say they plan to push “substantial constitutional questions” related to what they describe as anecdotal evidence used to arrive at the verdict.

“All the convictions could come back on that ruling alone,” said Karl Rominger, one of Sandusky’s attorneys.

Possible federal charges are looming against Sandusky. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a probe looking into some of the abuse allegations since they may have involved travel to other states.

During the trial, Sandusky’s attorneys warned that some of the accusers were elaborating their stories with the aim of earning money from future civil litigation. Filler says future plaintiffs will not likely be seeking money against Sandusky himself, but against Penn State and individual officials who are alleged to have been slow to stop the abuse once it became evident it was happening, sometimes even on university property.

“The money is with the university and the insurance policies that are carried by the university as a corporate entity,” says Filler.

Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a former vice president in charge of the campus police, both face charges of perjury and failure to report child abuse. Their trial is expected next year. Both men say they are innocent.

Another target is former university president Graham Spanier who resigned soon after Sandusky’s arrest. All three men were the focus of a grand jury report that criticized their failure to report accusations from former assistant football coach Mike McQueary, who said he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the locker room shower of the university’s athletic department in 2001.

The university said it hopes to settle as many cases as possible. In a statement released Friday, the university said it plans to establish a process where it “can privately, expeditiously and fairly address the victims’ concerns and compensate them for claims” and that it will “reach out to counsel to the victims of Mr. Sandusky’s abuse in the near future with additional details.”

Penn State’s Board of Trustees has also hired former FBI Director Louis Freeh to investigate the university’s handing of the Sandusky accusations. So far, Mr. Freeh has conducted over 400 interviews. In late May, Mr. Spanier sued the university to obtain emails he sent and received between 1998 and 2004 that he says he needs to prepare for interviews related to the investigation. The university denied the request under the direction of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, which is conducting its own investigation.

Besides the bombshell allegations expected to result from the Freeh report – much of which is expected to steer all future civil challenges – the Penn State community is expected to continue its struggle to recover from the scandal that began seven months ago.

Many critics point to its prestigious athletics program that elevated Sandusky to the status of “a Teflon Don” and allowed him to operate in broad daylight, says Chuck Williams, director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence in Philadelphia.

“He was observed taking showers with boys, wrestling with them, for years. Students saw it, coaches saw it, and administrators did nothing because he was such an iconic figure,” Mr. Williams says. “That community has a lot of soul searching to do about why they allowed it to persist for so long without doing anything.”

IN PICTURES: Fallout from the Penn State scandal

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