For years, according to testimony last week, people who had suspicions about Sandusky said nothing, or didn’t follow up, or convinced themselves that what they were seeing was harmless.
Joe Miller, a wrestling coach, testified that one night he stumbled upon Sandusky and a small boy lying face to face on a mat in a weight room. Sandusky quickly declared that they were practicing wrestling moves, Miller said. After telling Sandusky to turn out the lights and lock up, Miller had a moment of doubt, he said. But he reassured himself:
“Well, it’s Jerry. Jerry Sandusky. He’s a saint. What he’s doing with these kids is fantastic.”
The prosecution presented its case last week, and the defense attorneys for the former Penn State assistant football coach are expected to have their turn starting Monday. But this trial in a vintage county courthouse is shaping up as more than simply a matter of one man’s guilt or innocence. There’s a shadow trial underway, because if the prosecution’s case is correct, many people and important institutions failed to keep Sandusky from preying on boys despite direct eyewitness evidence that he was a pedophile.
A 1998 investigation of Sandusky generated no charges. According to testimony last week, a janitor told his colleagues in 2000 that he’d just seen Sandusky assault a boy in a shower. A few months later, an assistant coach, Mike McQueary, saw another shower attack, he testified. Yet Sandusky continued to have access to children for years. Last November he was arrested, and the prosecution has described him as a serial predator.
The question of broader culpability will eventually materialize in actual courtrooms. The biggest, richest target of lawsuits is Penn State, Sandusky’s former employer. One such suit has already been filed. Penn State’s president, Rodney Erickson, said in interviews before the Sandusky trial that the university will seek to settle the civil cases quickly to keep the alleged victims from being forced to retake the stand.
Those witnesses labored last week through painful testimony. Some sobbed; others were stoic. They often spoke of their own silence — how humiliation and shame kept them from speaking up sooner. They buried, or compartmentalized, the incidents. “I wanted to forget. I was embarrassed,” said a young man identified as “Victim 5” in last fall’s grand jury report, which first detailed the allegations.
“Victim 7” testified, “The more negative things I had sort of pushed into the back of my mind. Sort of like closing a door. Putting things in the attic and closing the door.”
The silence extended to the alleged abuse. The first witness to testify, “Victim 4,” said that throughout the period that Sandusky was abusing him neither Sandusky nor the boy discussed it. “It was basically like whatever happened there never really happened,” he said.