Sandusky case drawing to a rapid close

Posted at 12:00 PM, Jun 18, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-18 15:30:54-04

By the CNN Wire Staff
BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (CNN) — Closing arguments in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse trial could begin as soon as Thursday, Judge John Cleland said Monday.

He said the defense will probably end its case midday Wednesday, followed by the prosecution’s rebuttal. That should end Wednesday afternoon, clearing the way for closing arguments Thursday, less than two weeks after the start of what had been expected to be a three-week case.

The defense case began Monday, but testimony ended early because of “technical issues” involving witnesses, Cleland told jurors.

Sandusky, 68, is on trial on 51 counts related to accusations of improper conduct and sexual abuse involving at least 10 boys over a 15-year span. The former Penn State assistant coach has denied the charges.

At the conclusion of the trial, jurors will be sequestered in a hotel so outside influences cannot affect their deliberations, Cleland said.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case Monday morning with brief testimony from the mother of one of the alleged victims.

“He gave him clothes, he gave him gifts,” the mother of an accuser called Victim 9 testified. “I just wish he’d given him underwear to replace the underwear I could never find in my laundry.”

The final prosecution witness testified Monday that her son seemed to suffer from stomach ailments during the time he was visiting Sandusky and sometimes did not want to visit the former Penn State assistant’s home.

But she said she did not ask him about any possible abuse and still does not know what happened to him.

“I didn’t really want to hear,” she said, crying.

The defense then opened its case with a former Penn State coach who testified about Sandusky’s stellar reputation in the community.

Richard Anderson said that it was not uncommon for coaches and youths to use the shower at the same time, and that he had never seen anything inappropriate between Sandusky and a child.

Before Monday’s testimony, Cleland rejected defense arguments that the charges were too vague or the testimony did not support the claims.

Prosecutors did withdraw one charge of unlawful contact with a minor involving one of the defendants. The law was not in effect during the time the alleged misconduct occurred, prosecutors said. That left 51 charges pending against Sandusky.

A main focus of the defense’s strategy may be to attempt to poke holes in the prosecution’s case thus far.

“A lot of people lied,” lawyer Joe Amendola said last Monday in his opening statement.

Over four days, several people testified that Sandusky forced them to engage in sexual acts with him in various places, including showers in the Penn State coaches’ locker room, hotel rooms and the basement of his home.

One told jurors that Sandusky — whom he met, like many of the accusers, through the Second Mile nonprofit for disadvantaged youths that the ex-coach founded — had threatened him if he told others about the abuse. Another said Sandusky warned he might send him home from a trip to Texas, where they’d gone to watch a Penn State bowl game, if he resisted the sexual advances.

“There’s a tsunami of evidence against him,” veteran criminal defense attorney Ron Kuby said.

The defense could challenge the accusers’ timetable, questioning if Sandusky could have committed the crimes they claim he did, when they say he did them.

Some of the accusers have civil attorneys, Amendola noted last week, calling that unusual. Others, he said, have a financial interest in the case, an allegation that was denied by the accusers and their attorneys.

But Howard Janet, who represents the accuser known as Victim 6, blasted Amendola’s assertion that his client and others detailed the abuse just so they could sue Sandusky, calling it nonsense.

“Does that mean that none of them are telling the truth, because they’ve gone to hire a lawyer?” he said. “That’s absurd.”

The defense is expected to call an expert witness to testify that Sandusky may have histrionic personality disorder, which the National Institutes of Health says describes people who act “in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves.”

The prosecution had presented as evidence what one accuser described as “creepy love letters,” written by Sandusky, that they argued were part of “grooming techniques” commonly employed by sexual predators.

Judge Cleland issued an order Friday allowing a defense motion to offer expert testimony from a psychologist who “will explain that the words, tones, requests and statements made in the letters are consistent with a person who suffers from a Histrionic Personality Disorder.”

“The goal of a person suffering from this disorder in writing those letters would not necessarily be to groom or sexually consummate a relationship in a criminal manner, but rather to satisfy the needs of a psyche belabored by the needs of such a disorder,” the defense lawyers wrote in their motion.

Sandusky was expected to be examined Sunday by a prosecution psychologist related to the personality disorder defense, according to a source with knowledge with the case. It was not clear if that happened.

Another person who could testify is Dottie Sandusky, the accused ex-coach’s wife. While many alleged victims knew her, she is not accused of having witnessed any sexual abuse.

Lastly, there’s the question of whether Sandusky himself will take the stand.

Amendola told jurors last week that Sandusky routinely “got showers with kids” after working out and that he would say so later.

Kuby, the defense lawyer, said having the former coach testify may give him his best chance at avoiding jail time.

“Just maybe he can convince one juror to hold out,” the lawyer said. “A hung jury, right now, is a lot better than life without parole.”

CNN’s Dana Garrett, Laura Dolan and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

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