A few thoughts on the Sandusky trial and verdict

If you’re tired of reading or hearing about Jerry Sandusky, please just skip this post.

I guess I qualify as a news junkie, and that in part explains why I’ve been following the Sandusky case pretty closely for months. For years I’ve also been following the ways in which institutions shield their own members from crimes — through a kind of moral blindness, through outright criminal deception, through other less obvious but more insidious means.

Simply put, institutions tend toward cultures that protect their most powerful members. That’s certainly what we’ve seen at some levels of the Catholic Church. In case you missed it, Monsignor William Lynn was convicted on Friday on child endangerment charges for not acting to prevent abuse. That case could really be a turning point — as could the ongoing case in State College. Those who have reason to know about or even strong reason to suspect child abuse of any kind are legally obligated to act. It will certainly be interesting to see if Penn State officials knew as much about Sandusky’s decades-long criminality as it seems that they did.

As awful as the Sandusky case has been, and as petty as Sandusky and his attorney Joe Amendola have been in their various public statements, the case gives some reasons for optimism going forward:

  • prosecutors amassed evidence and brought the case to trial in a matter of months rather than years [after the indictment, I mean]
  • prosecutors presented the case at trial in a matter of days rather than weeks
  • jurors were not under the CSI effect; they were willing to accept the human — and sometimes imprecise — testimony presented to them and to come to a decision quickly
  • the trial itself seems to have been conducted in a way that will encourage other abuse victims (like Sandusky’s adopted son) to come forward rather than to hide in the shadows.

I’m certainly not trying to spin any of this as good news.

The case has put an ugly spotlight on university culture and on football culture — and even more on the culture big time college football, where winning is everything and coaches are deified.

I was also particularly struck by the testimony of Dottie Sandusky, the defendant’s wife. It’s entirely possible she knew nothing specific of the crimes — John Wayne Gacy had a wife in the same home where he murdered.

But Sandusky’s wife used words like “demanding and conniving”, “clingy to Jerry”, and “a charmer who knew what to say and when to say it” to describe the accusers.

Now, parents and teachers will recognize connivance and clinginess in the range of adolescent (and human) behavior), but in the context of this trial — and in the context of these lives and the Sanduskys’ “goal” of helping these boys — the words just seem creepy, as if the wife also didn’t really regard these children as children.

It sounds like from official statements that Penn State is going to move quickly to settle civil lawsuits, as they should.

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