STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s admission that he showered with and “horsed around” with boys could be used by prosecutors trying to convict him of child sex-abuse charges.
Experts in criminal law and crisis management questioned Sandusky’s decision to give a TV interview in which he said there was no abuse and that any activities in a campus shower with a boy were just horseplay, not molestation.
“Mr. Sandusky goes on worldwide television and admits he did everything the prosecution claims he did, except for the ultimate act of rape or sodomy? If I were a prosecutor, I’d be stunned,” said Lynne Abraham, the former district attorney of Philadelphia. “I was stunned, and then I was revolted.”
Abraham, who led a grand jury probe involving 63 accused priests from the Philadelphia archdiocese, was retained this week to lead an internal investigation of The Second Mile, the children’s charity founded by Sandusky, from which he allegedly culled his victims.
The child sex-assault charges filed against Sandusky this month have toppled Penn State’s longtime football coach, Joe Paterno, and the university’s president, Graham Spanier. The school’s athletic director and vice president are accused of not reporting what they knew to police and have left their posts.
Sandusky is charged with abusing eight boys over the span of 15 years. He told NBC on Monday that he was not a pedophile but, in retrospect, should not have showered with boys.
“I could say that I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them, and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact,” Sandusky said Monday on NBC News’ “Rock Center.” ”I am innocent of those charges.”
When NBC’s Bob Costas asked him whether he was sexually attracted to underage boys, Sandusky replied: “Sexually attracted, no. I enjoy young people, I love to be around them, but, no, I’m not sexually attracted to young boys.”
Sandusky apparently decided to talk to Costas by phone Monday at the last minute, with the blessing of his attorney, Joseph Amendola, who was in the studio.
“What was especially astonishing about Sandusky’s interview is — and this will be the big moment in court — is when he stumbled over the question about whether he was sexually attracted to children,” said crisis management expert Eric Dezenhall, who runs a Washington consulting firm. “That may not be legal proof that he’s guilty, but it is certainly not helpful, to struggle with the question.”
The state grand jury investigation that led to Sandusky’s arrest followed a trail that goes back at least 13 years, leading to questions from some quarters about whether law enforcement moved too slowly.
The grand jury report detailed a 1998 investigation by Penn State police, begun after an 11-year-old boy’s mother complained that Sandusky had showered with her son in the football facilities. Then-District Attorney Ray Gricar declined to file charges.
Another missed opportunity came in 2002, the grand jury said, when then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno that he had witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a child in the team’s showers. McQueary later spoke to Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and vice president for business Gary Schultz. They are now accused of breaking the law by not going to police.
McQueary’s actions also have been scrutinized, with some suggesting he didn’t do enough after witnessing child sex-abuse.
McQueary told a friend from Penn State that he stopped the alleged assault and went to the police about it. The friend made an email from McQueary available to The Associated Press on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity.
In the email dated Nov. 8 from McQueary’s Penn State account, the former Nittany Lions quarterback wrote: “I did stop it, not physically … but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room… I did have discussions with police and with the official at the university in charge of police….no one can imagine my thoughts or wants to be in my shoes for those 30-45 seconds…trust me.”
Added McQueary: “Do with this what you want…but I am getting hammered for handling this the right way…or what I thought at the time was right…I had to make tough impacting quick decisions.”
Emails to McQueary from AP were not immediately answered.
The case apparently took on new urgency two years ago, when a woman complained to officials at her local school district that Sandusky had sexually assaulted her son. School district officials banned him from school grounds and contacted police, leading to an investigation by state police, the attorney general’s office and the grand jury.
Gov. Tom Corbett took the case on a referral from the Centre County district attorney in early 2009 while he was serving as attorney general.
He bristled Tuesday when asked whether it was fair for people to criticize the pace of the probe.
“People that are saying that are ill-informed as to how investigations are conducted, how witnesses are developed, how backup information, corroborative information is developed, and they really don’t know what they’re talking about,” he told reporters.
The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the pace of the investigation.
The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported Monday that only one trooper was assigned to the case after the state took it over in 2009. It wasn’t until Corbett became governor early this year that his former investigations supervisor in the attorney general’s office, Frank Noonan, became state police commissioner and put seven more investigators on it, the newspaper said.
Noonan’s spokeswoman, Maria Finn, said Tuesday that manpower was increased in the case this year, but she could not confirm the numbers reported by the newspaper.
“The investigation, at the time, was gaining momentum,” Finn said. “There were more leads, there were more things to do at that point. It’s not that the state police weren’t doing anything and Noonan comes in and changes things.”
With the case now drawing global media attention and potential civil litigants watching from the sidelines, Sandusky went on the offensive in the NBC interview.
“I would knock my client over the head with a two-by-four before I would let them do it, but it cuts both ways,” said criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos, who represented O.J. Simpson and other celebrity defendants. “If prosecutors use it, it can end up being testimony without cross examination.”
He called the Penn State an unusual case that may call for unusual tactics, given the “instantaneous uproar to convict the guy.”
Penn State’s trustees have hired the public relations firm Ketchum, which through corporate communications director Jackie Burton said only that “the details of all our client assignments are confidential.”
Paterno, who authorities say fulfilled his legal responsibilities and is not considered an investigative target, has hired Washington lawyer Wick Sollers. Sollers told the AP on Tuesday he was “not in a position to comment just yet.”
Also Tuesday, lawyers for Schultz and Curley issued a statement in which they said it was “a travesty” that prosecutors sought to delay their clients’ preliminary hearing until next month.
“Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz are anxious to face their accusers, clear their good names and go on with their lives,” said attorneys Caroline Roberto and Tom Farrell.
The attorney general’s office declined to comment.
Sandusky’s next court date is Dec. 7, when he is due for a preliminary hearing in which a judge would determine if there’s enough evidence for prosecutors to move forward with the case.
Dale reported from Philadelphia. Scolforo reported from Harrisburg, Pa. AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo in New York contributed to this report.