Fran Lewis review The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment (Sunbury Press, 2017)
In The Most Hated Man in America, science writer and investigator Mark Pendergrast argues that Jerry Sandusky might be innocent, despite the many accusers who came forward. Among other things, he has uncovered evidence that “repressed memory therapy” and other memory distortion issues may have helped alleged victims remember things that never happened. You will need to read the book, which is long and complex, to form your own judgments.
When reading this book and hearing the voices of the alleged victims, one solid point rings true and that is all of the young men who came forward seemed to present almost the same stories and accounts of what they endured at the hand of Jerry Sandusky, at least once they got to trial. But most of them started by denying that Sandusky had abused them. Author Mark Pendergrast begins in the introduction by stating that, “ Like virtually all Americans, I deplore sexual abuse of children, which occurs far too frequently in our society. But, I also deplore false allegations and false convictions, and these occur far too frequently as well, especially when horrific allegations pile atop one another in a media-fueled frenzy.”
As you listen and read the transcripts of the trial, hear the testimonies and the interviews that the author conducted, it is up to you the reader to decide whether you believe everything the prosecution said and presented, or whether you feel that Sandusky should be set free. The author continues in the introduction stating that what follows in the pages of the book will emphasize that memory is a crucial factor in the Sandusky case and that not only is memory fallible, but it can be reshaped by influential authority figures and prevailing opinions. Even if he’s not guilty and didn’t molest anyone that does not necessarily mean that all his accusers were consciously lying.
You will read that Sandusky showered with some of his alleged victims, but was it in an inappropriate manner? Football players shower together, and in Jerry Sandusky’s culture this was not unheard of, that some showered together. Reading all of the descriptions of the alleged victims, I was struck that each one of the original accusers changed gears, changed their stories, added or subtracted elements, and yet none of these accusers spontaneously came forward to say that Sandusky abused them. But parents, therapists, law makers, police, lawyers and even friends can help influence someone’s viewpoint and help create the abuse narrative that Pendergrast allows us to deliberate as if we were on the jury and the verdict in our hands.
Pendergrast describes the 1998 shower incident. On this Sunday night, Jerry Sandusky picked up Zachary Konstas at this home to go to the Penn State sports facilities. Zach later recalled that he got to see the player’s gear, was given a pair of socks and after exercise, Sandusky indicated that a shower was in order. The next day, Konstas said Sandusky grabbed in a playful manner, but that there was no sexual abuse.
Each victim who testified at the June 2012 trial helped establish Sandusky’s guilt, but the jury did not hear the full story of the changes in their stories or the repressed memory therapy that contributed to this testimony. Sandusky’s lawyer, Joe Amendola, would have to present evidence to give the jury the ability to come back with not guilty by reasonable doubt, but he did a terrible job, according to Pendergrast. Many in the media created such a frenzy that you begin to wonder if, as the author relates, he received a fair trial. A black cloud of doubt and hatred hung over him from start to finish, yet Pendergrast presents enough research, facts and evidence that maybe Sandusky deserves a new trial.
The boys who were allegedly molested were Second Mile boys in a program for troubled youth that Sandusky started. The question is, did he help them or molest them or both? Pendergrast leaves readers wondering just what these young men remembered when they first came forth and reveals that what they said at trial was not the same account. Second Mile boys are at the heart or center of the case. The investigators asked questions that were leading and got the witnesses to present the responses they want.
The author’s research is quite extensive, and he keeps the reader’s attention as you sift through the trial transcripts and hear the lawyers, and he leaves readers wondering just who the guilty party might be. Jerry Sandusky started the Second Mile charity, helped many of these young men with school, taking them for dinner, allowing some to stay in his home, yet accused of being a pedophile and charged with sexual molestation or abuse. His wife did not shun him, She stood by him, yet the court trials and the end result presents its own verdict and case. The media hyped it up and the frenzy was outrageous, but did they present it accurately, or in their own minds declare and predetermine his guilt? If you focus on the news, you will realize that this very issue is in the forefront today, and if you heard Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes she drove the nail home even deeper letting not only young men but women speak out at injustices committed on them and what happens when they stay silent.
Joe McGettigan, the prosecutor, gave a strong opening statement, depicting Sandusky as more than just a serial rapist but someone who preyed on young men, almost equivalent to a serial killer, and the final verdict might have been decided at that moment. McGettigan was tough, no holds barred, and he related that he believed in a maximum sentence for Sandusky. The press milked this case and trial for everything and referred to the Second Mile as “a victim factory.” The press at times makes it worse for the accused and before the jury’s verdict comes out the person is deemed guilty.
At the trial, different forms of sexual contact were described from touching, groping and even penetration. McGettigan was relentless in his asking the jurors to literally picture what these young people went through, as if trying to paint a picture of the molestation in their own minds or creating a mental image. When I read that he had each victim as a child pictured on a wide screen I felt that was overkill. Aaron Fisher was the first alleged victim whose words and transcript had many inconsistencies, and he was highly influenced by his therapist, Mike Gillum. Brett Houtz was the most highly profiled victim with the worst stories, so he testified first to make the case more solid, but Pendergrast tears his story apart, too.
Then Zach Konstas was presented as too naive, who really had no idea what was happening when Jerry hugged him. So at the trial, this was presented as “grooming” behavior. Reading the chapter “Legal Grind,” I realized that the defense attorney Joe Amendola was totally inept in his preparation and presentation of the case to the court during the trial. The author describes the faces of the jurors, and you wonder what was going through their minds as they listened to both sides. This chapter was quite revealing, as Judge Cleland ruled against all seven of the appeal points and as the author states on page 277, the most compelling issue presented was the fact that Cleland had denied all of Amendola’s motions for a continuance so that he could deal with the huge amount of discovery information but he never went through or read all of it. So, how prepared was he? The judge also dismissed this claim at a January 10, 2013, hearing that; “he discovered no item he could have used at trial if he had had it; and he discovered nothing that would have altered his approach to the trial.” But Amendola never read the 12,000 pages and said he would not have used the taped interview with the janitor Jim Calhoun even if he had listened to it. In this tape, the janitor said that Sandusky was not the man he saw abusing a boy in a shower.
A new attorney named Al Lindsay for the defense headed the fight for the new trial and it took him nearly a year to prepare his Post-Conviction Relief Act Petition because Amendola was slow to turn over the mountain of discovery material. It makes you wonder if Amendola was on the opposite side.
Lindsay argued that Sandusky was entitled to a new and fair trial and was crushed under a stampede of vitriol, rage and prejudice that mandate a new trial in this case. He documented Amendola’s failure to follow legal ethics and quit rather than go on with the trial. You can tell by reading this book that he was not, prepared for in any way shape or form. Lindsay aptly concluded that the “Commonwealth’s entire case was a house of cards resting on testimony that trial counsel should have exposed as incompetent, unreliable, and inadmissible.” Before the judge could rule on the issues, a flurry of legal briefs and maneuvers intervened. Lindsay requested authority to issue subpoenas to Allan Myers (who was the boy in the infamous shower that the assistant coach supposedly saw, but he only heard slapping sounds of Sandusky and Myers snapping towels), Joe McGettigan and others. He wanted also to subpoena witnesses in relation to the leaked grand jury information to reporter Sara Ganim, including Ganim herself. Lindsay asserted that these leaks were part of the systematic breakdown of the grand jury process over time by the Attorney General’s Office and supervising judges.
Lindsay then brought on young attorney Andrew Salemme, a great fit to help with the case. But the media frenzy and Amendola’s failure to present expert testimony on the pseudoscience of repressed memories hampered the case.
The final outcome is questionable, as the judge on the case withdrew himself and the new trial if he would get one would be delayed, allowing readers and everyone else to know the judge in actuality wanted to rule against Sandusky.
Judge John Foradora replaced Cleland, and he was willing to allow hearings on all 34 of the issues defense counsel had raised. . He called new hearings on March 24, 2017, at which Amendola, therapist Mike Gillum, Joe Leiter and Scott Rossamn (police investigators who used leading methods) testified and the judge allowed Lindsay more latitude. But it was not a slam-dunk and Gillum, who worked with Fisher, would not admit that he was using repressed memory therapy. Gillum assumed that Jerry was guilty and admitted that he thought it was possible to repress traumatic memories. Lindsay’s defense missed many marks and the golden opportunity to show the judge just how leading Gillum’s methods were and he did in fact did practice recovered memory therapy.
Within this chapter you will hear more testimonies and the end result was that the retrial was denied.
The verdict was guilty and the sentence 60 years and parole after 30 when he will be 98 years old. The author graphically describes what Jerry Sandusky has gone through in prison, sentenced to solitary confinement, the indignities he endures each day and the horrors that fall upon him from the other inmates. You see why the prison system needs an overhaul and no matter what someone does he/she is not safe. Why didn’t the guards protect him and others? Pedophiles are prey for those that believe they are sex offenders,
When Jerry Sandusky finally took the stand in a hearing, he denied it all vehemently. He has maintained his innocence during this entire ordeal. Is he guilty? Should he have received this sentence? Is it over the top because of who he is and his position as coach of a football team? How does his family really feel? Do you, the reader, feel that he should have gotten a lesser sentence or found not guilty? You need to read this book to answer those questions. The Most Hated Man in America is well researched and very well-written. I took my time reading and reviewing it, rereading many passages and chapters before completing my thoughts. I won’t say if I believe he is guilty or innocent.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine