No Happy Endings in Happy Valley

During Jerry Sandusky’s trial a lot of thoughts came to mind. I jotted some down and pondered others. Here they are:

  • How many people had an opportunity to stop Sandusky? We know that there were several at Penn State–administrators, coaches, even a janitor. There were social workers and concerned parents. No one stopped it. If  there is anything in this sad tale that rivals Sandusky’s actions, it’s this silence.
  • As a lawyer, I like the way the prosecutor handled its case. The case was strong, and it was tried that way. The jury’s time wasn’t wasted. This wasn’t what I call a “California” trial where seemingly straightforward cases take 6 months to try.
  • A lot of folks enjoyed deriding Sandusky’s lawyer. I can’t imagine defending that case. What would I do? Probably no better than he did.  Sandusky was entitled to a trial and lawyer.  He had both.
  • Sandusky is a pedophile and fits the profile. I had heard of this profile, but this is the first time I’ve seen what it really looks like.
  • Sandusky isn’t a monster. He’s a football coach.  A father, a grandfather.  He’s your neighbor.  You go to church with him.  He volunteers in the community.  He does good things.  If he were a monster, it would all seem more palatable.  He is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing who preyed on the poorest and the weakest.  We can no more pick this monster out of crowd than we can tell what flavor ice cream a person likes by looking at him or her.  That makes him more frightening than any monster.
  • All that said, a Sandusky doesn’t operate in a vacuum.  People turn a blind eye.  Some are willfully ignorant, for sure, but others give the benefit of the doubt when such doubt has long since stopped being reasonable.  From abuses in churches to homes to this, the stories seem to have common theme of missed opportunities to stop this abuse.  Worse yet, there are those who know or at the very least should know and do nothing.
  • One can’t help but wonder how many other people operate the same as Sandusky.  He got caught.  It is reasonable to assume that many, many others haven’t been and won’t be.
  • The victims who testified deserve admiration.  They are men now, no longer scared into silence by a criminal.  They stood up to him, and he had nothing.  No explanation.  No excuse.  No threats to silence them.  Stripped of his power over them, he was just what he appeared to be–a pathetic, perverse criminal.  He could resort only to what he surely would have done had they come forward as children.  Accuse them of lying and hope he would get the benefit of the doubt because he was Coach Sandusky.  The easy path for these men would be to continue to hide and push this into the past.  By facing Sandusky, they put him where he needed to be long ago.  One can only hope that this will give them each–and the others who did not come forward–some measure of peace.
  • At the outset of this sorry tale, there was a feeling that the folks of Happy Valley would never turn against mighty Penn State.  Sandusky surely would be in good shape with a jury full of fans.  As it turns out, the power of football collapsed under the weight of a small town’s shame over one of its own.  When Sandusky’s conviction was announced, all reports are that there was cheering outside the courthouse, followed by jeering of Sandusky as he was led away in handcuffs.
  • I didn’t spend much time wondering if Sandusky did what he was accused of.  I’m a big believer in the criminal justice system.  Even those who commit crimes are entitled to put the government to its proof.  The jury did its job and not just because it returned convictions.  Their job was to reach a verdict based upon the evidence, and they did.
  • Justice was served in the only way it can be.  Let the court and jury decide his fate.  But make no mistake, there was no winner here.   Even if they gain some measure of peace now, the victims can’t undo the damage done to them by a person who came into their lives to help, not hurt them.  Sandusky gets to live the rest of his life in protective custody–23 hours a day in a 6 x 8 cell.  His wife and children have this hung around their necks like millstones.  Penn State will be scrubbing this stain for a generation.  The administrators, coaches, social workers and no doubt others who could have intervened will live with the knowledge that much of this could have been stopped.  This sad, shameful story had many authors, and no one could come up with a happy ending.
  • I can’t help but wonder why these things happen.  No one asks to be a victim nor do they invite such attacks.  Really, there is no answer.  As surely as there are good people, there are bad ones.  We cross paths with both every day.
  • When this story broke, it was largely a Penn State football story.  Who exactly was this Sandusky? What did Coach Paterno know?    We needed to know more about Mike McQueary.  Paterno was fired–an unthinkable act before Sandusky became a household word.  As the victims made their stories public, football faded away–even in Happy Valley.  When Paterno died, that marked the symbolic–if not actual–end to the football story.
  • The story isn’t over.  Like the abuses in the Catholic churches, you can expect years of civil litigation.  There will be more stories, more brutal details, but none will have quite the impact of what we heard the past two weeks.
  • Despite the horrific details of Sandusky’s behavior, tempering our reactions is necessary.  Sports are not over-run with pedophiles.  Our children are not in constant danger.  We would do well to remember the McMartin Preschool case and its surrounding mania.  Such accusations are easy to make and difficult to defend.  I knew a man who was tried and acquitted on molestation charges.  It didn’t matter.  His life was substantially destroyed.
  • Following the trial, I was surprised at how important it became to me that Sandusky be convicted.  As a lawyer, I’ve become conditioned to allowing these things to play out.  I was glad he was convicted, and I’m equally glad that he will spend his remaining years in prison.  I have no interest in seeking revenge on him by turning him loose in the general prison population.  That won’t help the victims.  It will only turn Sandusky into one himself.
  • I still don’t know what I learned from this, other than there is bad in the world.  I already knew that, of course.  I guess I need a reminder some times.

© 2012

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