June 8, 2012 -- When former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 52 counts of child sex abuse late last year, the sheer quantity of allegations and accusers made it seem like Sandusky faced an insurmountable problem in avoiding a conviction.
On Monday, however, the state of Pennsylvania will face the burden of proof as the Sandusky trial officially begins and prosecutors try to convince a jury that Sandusky, beyond a reasonable doubt, molested 10 boys. The holes in their case, and the ways in which defense attorney Joseph Amendola exploits them, will be the focus for the jury.
"It's generally thought that it is the sheer numbers that are the biggest problem that Sandusky is going to have," said Scott Coffina, a Philadelphia-based attorney who has followed the case. "But these are largely dated accusations, and the type of people Sandusky came in contact with had problems in their lives, that's why they came in contact with him. All of these things will affect the cross examination of these guys."
Sandusky was arrested in November 2011, following a three year grand jury investigation into allegations of sexual abuse sparked by a high school freshman in 2008 who claimed he was molested by the former coach. Now, eight victims are expected to testify during the trial, claiming that they were "groomed" by Sandusky through his charity, The Second Mile, and then molested by him in his home and around the Penn State campus.
To counter their allegations, Amendola will go after the credibility and motive of the accusers, questioning their personal histories, any criminal pasts, troubled upbringing, and the possibility that the men colluded to make money off a famous and well-connected football coach.
"To the extent that any of these now young men has filed a lawsuit for monetary damages, that is a fact the defense is allowed to bring up. It is the bias defense, i.e. the 'you're in it for the money' approach," said Jules Epstein, a law professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania.
Epstein said that Amendola could go after at least four weaknesses in the victims' testimony: the delay between when they were allegedly molested and when they were reported, the apparent inconsistency between being abused and remaining friendly with the abuser, the possibility of an ulterior motive for bringing charges now, and the vague dates of when the alleged assaults occurred.
Amendola confirmed to ABC News in November that he would go after the credibility of the alleged victims, including Victim 1, whom Amendola said had changed his story because of pampering from the prosecution, as well as Victim 4, whom Amendola said remained friends with Sandusky until recently.
"Two of the young men who we believe are listed as victims had dinner with Jerry and Dottie [Mrs. Sandusky] this past summer, and another alleged victim brought his girlfriend and baby to meet Jerry and Dottie two years ago," Amendola said at the time.
In addition to going after the credibility of the victims, the question of credibility may focus heavily on the prosecution's star witness, assistant football coach Mike McQueary.
McQueary testified to a grand jury that in March 2002 he saw Sandusky raping a young boy, about age 10, in the showers of the football team's locker rooms. In the grand jury presentment, the act is described as "anal rape."
However, during a court hearing earlier this year, McQueary backed off that statement, instead describing what he saw as "extremely sexual," with Sandusky's hands wrapped around the boy's waist as the boy was pressed up against the shower wall. He said he heard "rhythmic slapping sounds," but did not see insertion and could not be certain that it was anal rape.
"Jerry was having some type of intercourse with him. That's what I believe I saw," he said.
McQueary allegedly told people different versions about what he saw that day in the showers, which Amendola may use to discredit his testimony. In addition, last month the state attorney general's office changed the date when the alleged shower incident occurred from March 2002 to February 2001. McQueary said he was not sure when exactly it was.
"If Mr. McQueary is called as a witness for the prosecution, there will be some sort of attack on his credibility and reliability. What did he see, what did he say, he said different things at different times, and now we know he got the date wrong by a year," said Epstein.
The state attorney general's office has never been able to identify the boy who McQueary claims to have seen that day in the showers, and so he has never been interviewed to corroborate McQueary's story. In interviews given in the weeks after his arrest, Sandusky and Amendola said that the shower incident was likely Sandusky just "horsing around" with a boy in the locker rooms after a workout, slapping wet towels around at each other.
Jerry Sandusky Prosecution Faces Credibility Problem
Another Penn State employee, a janitor named James Calhoun, claimed that he saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in the same locker room showers in the fall of 2000, just months before the McQueary incident. Calhoun, who now suffers from dementia, will not be able to testify about what he saw. Instead, prosecutors have named the boy in the incident "Victim 8" and filled in his account of alleged abuse with details from other janitors, whom Calhoun allegedly told about the incident. That boy also has never been identified.
"You don't need a victim in court, legally. Otherwise we would have no homicide trials. What you need, though, is credible testimony as to what happened," Epstein said.
The prosecution will have to prove what the janitor saw without his testimony, which they can do through statements he made prior to his dementia, Epstein said, noting that certain hearsay evidence is admissible in court, and certain hearsay is not.
"My concern here is not victim versus no victim, but credible witness versus not credible witness," Epstein said. "Is there trustworthy, believable stuff?"
If the prosecution cannot adequately support the charges stemming from Victims 1 and 8, in which there will be no tangible victims in court, the judge could dismiss them at the end of the trial, Epstein noted.
Each count of sexual abuse carries a maximum penalty of 10 to 20 years, Epstein said, though judges can choose to impose shorter penalties if found guilty.