Former Pennsylvania State University coach Jerry Sandusky’s nationally televised denial that he had sexually abused children drew scathing reviews Tuesday from legal experts.
One defense lawyer and former prosecutor called the interview “a prosecutor’s dream.” Another pronounced the move “idiotic.”
Others argued that amid a steadily growing chorus of damaging news, Sandusky had little choice but to speak out publicly.
“This is the new reality of criminal cases,” said Dennis J. Cogan, a prominent defense lawyer who faced hordes of reporters when he defended former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo on corruption and fraud charges in a case that dragged on for years. “There are certain people who have always done this – go on a public relations blitz. Who’s to say that’s wrong?”
Edward D. Ohlbaum, a professor at Temple University Law School and a former public defender, for one.
“I understand the desire to do damage control; people are already comparing this guy to a monster,” Ohlbaum said. “But to expose him to that level of questioning when you have absolutely no control over it? Stunning. Absolutely stunning.”
Sandusky is accused of sexually assaulting eight young boys during a period of 15 years. Many of the assaults allegedly occurred on Penn State’s main campus.
From a legal perspective, Ohlbaum said, the decision to allow Sandusky to be questioned by a television reporter, albeit off camera, was fraught with risk.
Sandusky’s taped phone interview with NBC’s Bob Costas on Monday night is now fair game in the legal case, defense experts say, and will almost surely make its way before a judge or jury.
“They will not only hear what he said, but what he did not say. You can’t edit out the voice, the tone, and the pauses…” Ohlbaum said.
When Ohlbaum learned that Sandusky was going to take questions in a taped interview, he said, “You could have knocked me over with a toothpick.
“You and I and 35 kazillion other people sat there in jaw-dropping, stunning (silence) and said, ‘What is he doing?’ ”
While Sandusky denied the most serious charge – that he sodomized a 10-year-old boy in a shower – he acknowledged that he had “horsed around” with boys, hugged them, and showered with them. When asked whether he was sexually attracted to young boys, Sandusky repeated the question, paused, and then said he was not.
Typically, it’s the defense lawyers or friends of the accused who step up to the cameras and microphones to try to blunt a prosecutor’s case. Defense lawyers questioned Sandusky’s decision to do that himself.