Jerry Sandusky gets at least 30 years in prison, but case isn't closed yet

The former Penn State coach was sentenced Tuesday for child sexual abuse, but his lawyer says the conviction will be appealed. There is also the unresolved matter of civil lawsuits filed against Jerry Sandusky, his charitable foundation, and Penn State.

Matt Rourke/AP
Former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, center, is taken from the Centre County Courthouse by Centre County Sheriff Denny Nau, left, and a deputy, after being sentenced in Bellefonte, Pa., Tuesday.

Child molester Jerry Sandusky, sentenced Tuesday to 30 to 60 years, is likely spend the rest of his life in prison – assuming the conviction of the the former Penn State football coach sticks. A probable appeal, plus at least three civil suits filed by victims seeking damages, means the final chapter in the sordid Sandusky saga remains to be written.

The lead lawyer for Mr. Sandusky, Joe Amendola, said Tuesday he will appeal the conviction. He claims that Sandusky’s right to due process was violated by what he considers a rush to trial: Sandusky’s trial began 4-1/2 months after he was arrested and charged with abusing 10 young boys. Sandusky was convicted in June on 45 counts.

“If you research your typical felony case, the cases take at least a year, sometimes three years,” said Mr. Amendola at a post-sentencing news conference in Bellefonte, Pa.

Due process in a court of law is enshrined in the US Constitution, but whether Sandusky's lawyers can show that their client was denied it because of inadequate time to prepare a defense remains to be seen. Some trial lawyers are dubious. How much time a defendant needs to prepare for trial, they say, is up to the trial judge.

“Other than the right to a speedy trial, there is no rule [in the Constitution] on when an arrest takes place and the date of the trial,” says Alan Kaufman, a former federal prosecutor and a defense lawyer at Kelley Drye & Warren, a New York-based law firm. “Some judges are much stricter on scheduling, and others are more flexible.”

Mr. Kaufman, who sometimes defends white-collar criminals accused of insider trading, says the evidence in those cases can include hundreds or even thousands of hours of tape-recorded information. “There can be 100,000 pages of discovery, and I know judges are usually receptive if you need adequate time to prepare.”

Sandusky, in a rambling statement released by on Monday, the day before sentencing, also alluded to the relatively quick trial. “First, I looked at myself. Over and over, I asked why? Why didn’t we have a fair opportunity to prepare for trial?”

In the statement, Sandusky blamed almost everyone else for his plight. First, he claimed that a “young man who is dramatic, a veteran accuser, and always sought attention started everything,” he said. "He was joined by a well-orchestrated effort of the media, investigators, the system, Penn State, psychologists, civil attorneys, and other accusers."

Amendola said Tuesday he would have liked to have had time to see if there had been any corroboration between any of the victims.

He says it would have taken months to comb through phone records of all 10 victims. “All we were looking for was information,” he said. “The information was coming in as we were selecting a jury. We ran out of time.”

However, other defense lawyers wonder what Amendola might have uncovered.

“It is a classic fishing expedition,” says James Cohen, an associate professor at Fordham University Law School in New York. “What would the phone records have shown? Probably not a lot.”

Mr. Cohen says it would indeed be worrisome if all the victims had gotten together and compared notes. “Then you worry that collaboration distorts the truth,” he says. “But this seems like a thin thread to rely on” as the basis of an appeal.

The state’s chief prosecutor in the case, Joe McGettigan, was not very sympathetic to Amendola’s claim. At the post-sentencing press conference, he said that if the defense attorney had spent less time talking to the media, he might have had more time to spend on preparing his case.

In a controversial decision by Sandusky's legal team, Sandusky in November 2011 did a phone interview with NBC’s Bob Costas for a show called “Rock Center.” Sandusky was prepping for an interview with prosecutors when Amendola suggested getting Mr. Costas on the phone. In the subsequent interview, Sandusky meandered and said he had helped many young boys. But in hindsight, he said, he regretted the showers with young boys and what he termed the “horseplay.”

The showers and the horseplay were part of the sad but compelling evidence in the trial. Even before the trial started, legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired over the scandal, and university president Graham Spanier resigned over his purported handling of allegations against Sandusky. 

During Sandusky's trial, then-assistant-coach Mike McQueary said he told Paterno that he saw Sandusky in the shower with a young boy and heard a sickening slapping sound.

Amendola maintains that Mr. McQueary never indicated there was any sex in the event. McQueary is now suing Penn State, which fired him as well.

Penn State, in fact, had an institutional soul-searching time this summer after former FBI head Louis Freeh, hired by the university, found “the most powerful men at at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."

Now that Sandusky has been sentenced, lawyers for the victims are expected to pursue civil lawsuits seeking damage awards against Sandusky, the Second Mile Foundation founded by Sandusky, various insurance companies, and Penn State.

“Penn State has deeper pockets,” observes Cohen.

Three civil suits have already been filed. In September, Penn State hired Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the 9/11 victims fund, in an indication that it hopes to reach out-of-court settlements.

And, on Tuesday, prosecutors made no comment about whether they plan to bring additional charges against Sandusky. In the waning days of the trial, Matt Sandusky, an adopted son, has said he was abused, as well.

Sandusky himself would not be eligible for parole until he is 98. However, Amendola noted that the parole board does not usually grant parole on the first request.

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