Jerry Sandusky doesn’t testify as defense rests its case

Jerry Sandusky has chosen to remain silent.

After much anticipation that the former Penn State assistant football coach would directly address the child sex abuse charges against him, Sandusky’s lead attorney, Joe Amendola, faced Judge John Cleland late Wednesday morning and said, “Your honor, at this time the defense rests.”

The prosecution quickly announced that it would not offer rebuttal witnesses. Such was the anticlimactic end of testimony in the Sandusky trial, which began more quickly than expected and could be wrapped up sooner as well, with a verdict possible by the end of the week.

Defendants do not have to testify in their own defense. Sandusky’s silence means that the jury has heard his denial of the charges only through his attorneys and through an excerpt of an interview he gave to Bob Costas of NBC last fall, shortly after he was arrested.

In the interview, Sandusky declared his innocence and denied some specific allegations, admitting only to horseplay while taking showers with boys in the public locker rooms. But at key moments he gave halting answers to questions about whether he was sexually attracted to young boys.

In one passage heard by the jury last week — but edited out of the hastily arranged NBC broadcast in prime time — Sandusky said: “I didn’t go around seeking out every young person for sexual needs that I’ve helped. There are many that I didn’t have — I hardly had any contact with who I have helped in many, many ways.”

Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday morning. The judge will then give his instructions to the seven women and five men of the jury, all of them residents of Centre County, Pa. They’ll be sequestered during deliberations, which will be complicated by the sheer number of allegations against Sandusky.

Attorneys for Sandusky are under a gag order and did not offer a public explanation for why he didn’t testify. Amendola had suggested in his opening statement that his client would take the stand. His announcement that the defense was resting its case came only after a nearly hour-long break in the proceedings during which Sandusky, the lawyers and the judge vanished into back rooms, suggesting that the final decision on whether Sandusky would take the stand was made at the last minute.

The public seats in the courtroom were filled by 8 a.m., an hour before the trial’s resumption, after several people showed up early in hopes of seeing Sandusky take the stand.

“I just wanted to see him try to defend himself. I was very disappointed,” said Constance Boland, a school guidance counselor who had regularly referred troubled children to the Second Mile, the charity Sandusky founded that prosecutors say became his supply line for young boys whom he abused. Boland arrived at the courthouse at 3:30 a.m. to make sure she got a seat.

Tom Kline, an attorney for one of Sandusky’s accusers, told reporters afterward that Sandusky’s silence means the defense offered “no direct refutation” of the charges leveled by eight alleged victims who testified last week. He suggested that jurors will take note of the fact that Sandusky was willing to give an interview to Costas on national television but would not explain himself to fellow residents of Centre County.

Sandusky’s legal team chose a strategy of trying to chip away at the credibility of certain witnesses and suggesting that they were coached by investigators and might be hoping for a payout in civil litigation still to come.

Wednesday morning, the defense brought to the stand two men who, as troubled boys lacking father figures, had been in the Second Mile program. They said Sandusky never behaved inappropriately with them.

The second, David Hilton, 21, said that during questioning by investigators, “I felt like they wanted me to say something that wasn’t true.”

During cross-examination, prosecutor Joseph McGettigan showed photographs of Hilton as a boy with Sandusky at a football game and introduced into evidence a letter from Sandusky to the boy. The letter, which only briefly flashed on a screen, included the line, “Thanks for being my very best friend!”

The defense also called a witness whose testimony did not match that of Mike McQueary, the Penn State assistant coach who said last week that he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy in a locker room shower in 2001.

Jonathan Dranov, a medical doctor who is a close friend of the McQueary family, went to the home of McQueary’s parents the night of the incident and found the assistant coach extremely shaken by what he’d seen. But McQueary, Dranov said, didn’t say that he saw a sexual incident. Rather he said he heard sexual sounds, Dranov recalled, and saw a boy’s head pop out of the shower and then an arm pull the boy back.

“I kept saying, ‘What did you see?’ Each time he would come back with sounds. I kept saying, “What did you see?’ And each time it just seemed to make him more upset,” Dranov said.

But the state’s case against Sandusky does not pivot on any single witness. There are 51 counts related to sex abuse involving 10 boys over the course of 15 years. Eight of the alleged victims testified last week. The two other boys were never identified, including the one McQueary saw.

Sandusky pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Although the accusers gave their names in court, The Washington Post does not generally name alleged victims of sex crimes, a policy broadly followed by the media covering the Sandusky case.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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