The eyewitness testimony that confronted jurors in Jerry Sandusky’s child-molestation trial last week was disturbing not only for its graphic descriptions of sex with boys, but for what it said about the people who surrounded and maybe even protected the once-revered Penn State assistant coach.
Eight accusers took the witness stand and described how Sandusky molested them in campus showers, hotel bathrooms, a basement bedroom, a sauna used by the football team – right under the noses of his friends, colleagues, family members and acquaintances.
The Sandusky story, the way authorities have framed it, is one littered with missed chances to stop a rapist who preyed on children for years.
Prosecutors have hinted that top university officials knew far more about Sandusky’s alleged proclivities than they have let on, submitting a document Monday that says Penn State’s former vice president – himself facing charges related to the scandal – maintained a file on Sandusky a decade ago. A Penn State trustee told The Associated Press he now suspects a cover-up.
Yet evidence and testimony from the trial also show there were plenty of people, not just those at the highest levels of the university, who had ample opportunity to stop a man accused of violating 10 boys through 15 years:
A janitor failed to tell authorities he allegedly caught Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in a campus shower a dozen years ago.
A district attorney with a reputation for prosecuting cases involving children and sexual-abuse victims declined to charge Sandusky on a 1998 molestation allegation even though the detective who investigated thought it was a solid case. The DA, Ray Gricar, disappeared in 2005 and was declared legally dead last year.
School district officials were skeptical of abuse claims brought by the young man known in court papers as Victim 1 because, the accuser testified, Sandusky was considered to have a “heart of gold.” Victim 1’s allegations eventually triggered the state investigation that produced charges.
One accuser testified he screamed for help at least once when Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, was in the house. He doesn’t know whether she heard his cries.
And, famously, coaching assistant Mike McQueary saw Sandusky having what he believed to be anal sex with a young boy in 2001. But his report to Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz went nowhere. McQueary’s father testified that during a conversation, Schultz said he was suspicious of Sandusky, and NBC reported last week that emails between former university President Graham Spanier and Schultz aiming to keep McQueary’s allegation from going further were turned over to the attorney general.
Others also saw Sandusky engaging in behavior that was at least odd, if not criminal. Longtime assistant coach Tom Bradley walked into the shower when one boy was with Sandusky, the accuser testified, and a wrestling coach told jurors he saw Sandusky and a child rolling on the floor.
Several accusers said their parents or caregivers failed to grasp what was happening to them. Victim 4 testified that one weekend he did not want to go with Sandusky and told his mother, “I’m pretty sure he’s gay,” but she dismissed the idea. “She said, Oh, whatever, this is just one of your lies,’” he told jurors. He also said at one point he told his grandmother to tell Sandusky he wasn’t home when he called.
Victim 1 testified that when he asked his mother about “a website for people who do things to children,” and she asked why, he said it was “to see if Jerry was on there.” He said he didn’t think she totally understood. And Victim 9 told jurors he described Sandusky to his mother as “a touchy-feely type of a person,” but she pressured him to spend time with the former coach.
Keith Masser, a Penn State trustee, said in an interview that he initially thought the scandal was about a failure of administrative oversight of the football program. Now, he suspects it goes deeper.
When the board of trustees ousted Spanier on Nov. 9, four days after Sandusky’s arrest, it was “because we didn’t have confidence in his ability to lead us through this crisis,” Masser said. “We had no idea (at the time) he would be involved in a cover-up.”
Masser stressed he was speaking for himself and not the board at large, and said he wants to be careful not to draw premature conclusions. But he said it now appears like “top administration officials and top athletic officials were involved in making the decision to not inform the proper authorities.”
With prosecutors focused on the sex-abuse allegations against Sandusky, the trial isn’t intended to yield evidence of a possible cover-up. That’s the job of Louis Freeh, the former FBI director hired by the board of trustees to investigate the scandal. His report could be released in late summer.
Spanier, who has not been charged with any crime, did not respond to email and phone messages. His attorney did not return a phone call.
The law firm defending Curley and Schultz against charges they lied in their grand jury testimony and failed to report suspect abuse said in a statement this week they “conscientiously considered” McQueary’s account and “deliberated about how to responsibly deal with the conduct and handle the situation properly.” They did not respond to follow-up questions posed by the AP.
Masser said the Freeh investigation is helping Penn State get to the bottom of the scandal.
“I hope the truth comes out, and from a board standpoint it was Judge Freeh’s investigation that found these emails that relate Spanier, Curley and Schultz to the suspected cover-up,” he said. “I want the alumni to understand and the stakeholders to understand that this independent investigation is uncovering this information.”
Sandusky was charged in November and December with more than 50 counts of abuse. The scandal brought disgrace to Penn State and led to the ousters of both Spanier and Paterno, the Hall of Fame coach who died in January at age 85.
The testimony of eight of the 10 alleged victims named in a grand jury report prompted disgust and revulsion from Penn State alumni and others who took to Twitter last week to express their dismay – and to call for the heads of anyone involved in concealing abuse. “Anyone who knew and didn’t report should burn!” tweeted one.
The grim depictions of abuse also hit at least one former player hard.
The accuser known as Victim 4 told jurors that Sandusky let him wear star linebacker LaVar Arrington’s jersey and gave him a magazine autographed by the former NFL All-Pro, who played at Penn State in the late 1990s.
Arrington apologized to the man a day after his testimony, writing in The Washington Post that he felt awful for having missed the warning signs.
“He always seemed mad or kind of distant. I remember distinctly asking him: ‘Why are you always walking around all mad, like a tough guy?’” Arrington wrote. “I guess with everything that I had going on, it certainly wasn’t a priority for me to try to figure him out.”
Arrington continued, “I hate everything that has happened, and now I must admit I feel even worse, knowing what allegedly was happening so close to me, and that I was unaware.”
Ann Tenbrunsel, a professor of business ethics at the University of Notre Dame, attributes the failure to stop Sandusky to a phenomenon she calls “motivated blindness,” a tendency, whether subconscious or deliberate or sometimes both, to ignore unethical or even criminal behavior by others when you perceive it to be in your best interest to do so. Motivated blindness “means I don’t probe, I don’t ask, I don’t believe,” Tenbrunsel said. “I have evidence in front of me but choose to disregard facts.”
Some people could have kept quiet about their suspicions because they wanted to protect Penn State and its beloved – and highly lucrative – football program, or their own jobs, she said. Others might not have wanted to believe the sainted Sandusky capable of the abuse he’s now charged with.
“You have all kinds of examples of people who either did not notice, or when they did notice didn’t engage in behaviors that would have stopped it because it wasn’t in their best interests to do so,” said Tenbrunsel, co-author of “Blind Spots,” a book that explores why otherwise decent people sometimes fail to do the right thing.
Some of the alleged assaults appear to have been interrupted, if unwittingly. One young man said Sandusky coerced him into engaging in oral sex in a hotel bathroom in Texas around the time of the 1999 Alamo Bowl – Sandusky’s last game before retiring – stopping only when the coach’s wife entered the hotel room. The same accuser, Victim 4, testified about another occasion in which Bradley was showering in the team headquarters while the alleged victim and Sandusky were behind a curtain in another stall.
“I can’t say what (Bradley’s) thoughts were, but I think he was suspicious of something because he stayed in the shower until everything was done,” the man testified without elaborating.
Bradley did not return several messages from The Associated Press.
A wrestling coach told jurors that he found Victim 1 and Sandusky rolling around on the floor in the high school weight room one evening.
Joseph Miller said that while he found it odd, he gave the famed coach a pass. “It was Jerry. Jerry Sandusky. He’s a saint. What he’s doing with kids, it’s fantastic,” Miller recalled thinking. “So I didn’t think anything of it.”
The trial is scheduled to enter its fifth day Monday as prosecutors near the end of their case. Sandusky denies all the charges, saying that while he showered with boys, he never touched them sexually. His attorney has suggested the accusers are twisting the truth because they intend to sue.
Associated Press writers Mark Scolforo and Genaro C. Armas in Bellefonte, Pa., contributed to this report.