BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) – The defense in Jerry Sandusky’s child sexual abuse trial could begin putting on its own witnesses early this week, and one of them could be the former Penn State assistant football coach himself.
Sandusky’s lawyer suggested in opening statements that Sandusky, 68, may take the stand, although that is a risk that defense attorneys usually avoid.
It can be difficult for any defendant to hold up under the questions of a skilled cross-examiner, said David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor.
“If they put him on, that’s really a sign that they think they cannot succeed unless they put him on,” Harris said. “Because it’s a huge risk.”
Jurors have already heard Sandusky deny the allegations, in the form of an audio recording of a stilted television interview Sandusky conducted shortly after his November arrest.
They also listened to 20 prosecution witnesses over four days, including eight men ages 18 to 28 years who said they were his victims when they were children.
In a large and crowded courtroom, with a crush of national media listening to their every word, the accusers recounted in detail their experiences. Their testimony forms the heart of the case the government is trying to prove, that Sandusky is a predatory pedophile, in the words of lead prosecutor Joe McGettigan.
The men said he plied them as children with gifts, dazzled them with the prestige of Penn State’s vaunted football program and then scaled up physical contact from a hand on the knee or a fatherly kiss to fondling, repeated oral sex and in some cases violent anal rape.
Now they will hear the defendant’s side and witnesses could begin testifying as early as Monday. Defense attorney Joseph Amendola’s opening statement, court documents and four days of witness cross-examination provide something of a road map to a strategy aimed at creating enough doubt in jurors’ minds to avoid a conviction that could send Sandusky to prison for life.
The defense has sought to show how the stories of accusers have changed over time, that they were prodded and coached by investigators and prosecutors, that some are motivated to lie by the hopes of a civil lawsuit jackpot, and to paint Sandusky’s interactions with children as misunderstood and part of a lifelong effort to help them, not victimize them.