If you’re inclined to believe the first witness in yesterday’s opening day of the Jerry Sandusky child sex assault trial in Centre County – and I am – the Pennsylvania State University might never fully recover from the chamber of horrors that prosecutors allege operated on its main campus in State College.
My alma mater’s future pales in comparison to the future of the alleged victims.
The fate of at least ten young men who were boys when they claim the big time Penn State football coach abused them in torturous ways hangs in the balance of the trial. Like the scales of justice, their lives can tilt either way. If they are proven to truly be victims, they deserve every chance in life and all the encouragement we can offer so they can move on and heal – if that is ever possible.
Yesterday’s first witness offered grisly testimony. He described Sandusky in terms that exactly fit prosecutors’ charge that the former big man on campus is a “serial predator” who stalked vulnerable child targets with the fierce depravity and savage violence of a wild king-of-the-beasts jungle animal.
If the first witness, now 28, is any indication of what is to come, Sandusky’s lawyers will earn every penny they receive for trying to defend him and his alleged predatory past. In desperate terms, they will try to portray him as the only target in the case – a good and innocent man whose only crime was love, a naïve man-child who offered children the gift of kindness and found himself targeted by money-hungry opportunists and reckless cops and prosecutors.
Sound familiar? Sound like you-know-who? Just look over your shoulder. He’ll be there.
Michael Jackson set the standard for high-profile child molestation show trials in America. And after a trial that spanned months, a jury acquitted him on 14 terrible counts related to the molestation of one boy.
Yesterday’s witness testified that Sandusky blanketed him with attention and gifts, offering smothering affection that made him think he was the only one.
Jackson did the same.
I’ve walked both the Penn State campus and the spacious grounds of Neverland, Jackson’s sprawling fortress-like fantasy estate in Central Coastal California.
Jackson invited me and other media representatives to his fantasyland when he tried to court us before his 2005 trial that I covered for Sky News in Europe and the daily newspaper where I worked in Santa Maria where the trial took place.
I know the appeal of both places. But I can’t begin to imagine the excitement in the heart of a weak child with no family or friends of means who were unable to give him what Sandusky and Jackson gave their “special friends.”
That’s what Jackson’s prosecutors called his alleged targets – special friends. That’s also what child molestation experts call a classic grooming technique designed to isolate and set up the next mark as the next piece of meat for a hunter.
Jackson walked out of the courtroom a free man because prosecutors could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jackson was a pedophile. Sandusky prosecutors must take a lesson in loss from that case and establish a pattern of believable witnesses, one after another who remain unflappable in their accusations and, above all, believable despite their pain.
Will race play a role in this case?
I don’t know if the alleged victims in Sandusky’s case are black, white, Latino or a combination. But I will always believe that the mostly white jury in Jackson’s trial simply did not like the alleged victim, whose East L.A. Latino roots turned him into something the jurors not only couldn’t understand, but didn’t want to understand.
Jurors hated Jackson’s alleged victim’s mother, too. I might as well throw in his brother and sister, who corroborated their brother’s testimony.
That’s why I believe Jackson was guilty.
That’s why I’m already leaning toward a belief that Sandusky is guilty as well.
But we’ll see.
The trial will take a few weeks and then we’ll see if justice is served, as the popular cliché goes. But is justice ever truly served? Somebody is already hurt or dead or both by the time a case reaches a courtroom. And somebody always walks away more damaged when it’s over than he or she was when it began.