June 11, 2012
One issue for local attorneys is the ruling that victims must use real names at trial.
By: Sheena DeLazio
Jerry Sandusky will face a jury of his peers and dozens of witnesses in his highly publicized sexual abuse trial that is scheduled to open today.
Prosecutors contend Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, sexually abused at least 10 boys over a 15 year-period. Sandusky’s attorneys say that’s not true.
“The commonwealth needs the victims to present credible, believable testimony of what accurately and candidly portrays what they say Sandusky did to them years ago,” Wilkes-Barre attorney, Peter Paul Olszewski Jr.
Olszewski, who has worked as county district attorney, a common pleas judge and now a defense attorney, said what the defense has in its favor is that Centre County Judge John Cleland ruled the victims must use their real names when testifying.
“It could cause them to retreat and shy away from testifying,” Olszewski said.
Attorney Tom Marsilio, a longtime defense attorney and former prosecutor, said he would have to give the edge to the prosecution.
“(Prosecutor) Joe McGettigan will take no prisoners,” Marsilio said of his former colleague, whom he worked with in the state Attorney General’s Office. “He has 35 to 40 years of experience. He’s tough.”
Victims of sexual abuse tend not to report the abuse to authorities due to fear, repercussions and public reprisal, Olszewski said.
Now that the victims must use their names, Olszewski said, they will not only be known in Centre County, but everywhere in the United States.
“The whole world is watching this case,” Olszewski said.
But former county district attorney and longtime prosecutor Jackie Musto Carroll disagrees with that assessment.
“(The victims) knew they were going to have to testify and do it in front of other people,” she said. “Hopefully, they are strong enough to continue to go forward.”
Musto Carroll, who now runs a private law firm in Pittston, agreed with Olszewski on the credibility of the victims testimony being what the prosecution relies on most.
“If eight victims testify, I think that bodes well for the commonwealth. Often times, one child testifies or a few people in a family setting,” Musto Carroll said. “Basically, (these witnesses) are adults. It’s important for the jury to determine whether or not their statements can be trusted.”
Marsilio said the defense argument that the victims are all part of a conspiracy just doesn’t happen on a regular basis. They will be required to testify truthfully.
“With that many accusers up there testifying, it’s not going to bode well for Jerry Sandusky,” Marsilio said.
Musto Carroll said another point for the prosecution was scored when Sandusky’s preliminary hearing was waived, not giving defense attorneys a chance to hear what victims had to say before an actual trial.
“They don’t have the information. They will be seeing these witnesses testify for the first time,” Musto Carroll said of Sandusky’s defensive team.
For prosecutors, they only need a conviction on one or two of the felonies Sandusky is charged with for him to essentially serve a life sentence, Olszewski said.
Several of the felony charges of the first degree carry a minimum 10-to-20-year sentence, while felonies of the second degree, a minimum 5-to-10-year sentence.
“Even if he gets the minimum on three (second-degree felonies) consecutive to each other, he’ll be in prison until he’s 83 years old,” Olszewski said.
He said it will be difficult for defense attorneys to prove there was some type of conspiracy between the victims. For defense attorneys, is easier to disprove one or two witnesses, but with 10, Olszewski says it will be difficult to prove they are all lying.
Defense attorneys will likely question witnesses about civil lawsuits they have pending against Sandusky, Olszewski said. Attorneys can begin with questioning such as if the witnesses have private attorneys and if there is a civil suit in the process.
“(Sandusky’s attorneys) have something to gain and it could cut down (the witnesses) credibility,” Olszewski said.
It will be crucial for the defense team to attack the credibility of the victims, Marsilio said.
“Without a doubt, (the civil lawsuits) are one way the defense can (do that),” Marsilio said. “Are they (testifying against Sandusky) for financial gain?”
Musto Carroll said sexual assault cases are the hardest to prosecute because of the victims, their emotional and physical scars and dealing with the abuse it self.
“The more evidence in the case, the better,” Musto Carroll said. “But with these cases, they simply come down to a person’s statement. The jury will have to decide if what they say sounds credible.”
Scientific evidence could certainly help prosecutors, Musto Carroll said, but it’s not necessary.
What works in favor of the defense team, Musto Carroll says, is the passage of time from when the offenses allegedly occurred until the time of the trial.
“Maybe the witnesses can’t remember some details,” Musto Carroll said.
She said she also thinks the defense may have another advantage with the civil lawsuit that are pending.
“If the jury thinks there are motives for these people coming forward other than to seek justice, such as money that may weigh in favor of the defendant,” she said.