Louis Freeh’s report on Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky case is notable partly for a criticism that it doesn’t make: The former FBI director found no fault with Tom Corbett’s handling of the criminal probe that ultimately brought down the serial child predator. That’s because Corbett got it right.
Some of the commentary that followed last week’s release of the report accused the governor and former attorney general of sitting on his hands by not arresting Sandusky after the first victim came forward. In fact, a reporter brought up the issue hours after the report’s release, asking Corbett if he should have acted more quickly.
It’s easy to sit behind a computer and critique a case like this when you don’t understand the day-to-day workings of the justice system and its often harsh realities for victims. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I do understand those realities.
I have devoted much of my life to advocacy for victims of rape and abuse, including some of Sandusky’s victims. And I can attest to how difficult it is for a boy or young man to admit to a courtroom full of reporters and others that an older man groomed him for sex acts.
Now take such a victim, probably the product of a fatherless home, and pit his word — with no physical evidence — against that of a football hero and founder of a renowned charity. With one troubled boy facing a local celebrity with an ice cream flavor named after him, what are the odds of a conviction?
In my career as an advocate, I have seen too many single-accuser cases fail after an aggressive defense lawyer plants the seeds of confusion and doubt in a jury. Some of Sandusky’s victims have said they would not have come forward if other victims were not expected to testify. They needed the strength of numbers. And when they realized the extent of Sandusky’s predation, they felt not only the strength to testify, but also the duty.
“An acquittal in this case would have been absolutely devastating to the psyches of these young men,” Ben Andreozzi, an attorney for some of Sandusky’s victims, told me. “The survivors welcomed cautious and thorough efforts by the Attorney General’s Office to ensure that they were not exposing themselves and the nightmares of their past to the mass public in vain.”
To take down a pillar of the community, you need a jackhammer of a case. Corbett understood that. And when the complaint reached him — unlike others who had suspicions about Sandusky’s crimes over the years or even witnessed them — Corbett acted.
Kenneth Lanning, a retired FBI agent and expert on crimes against children, said cases like this are complex and time-consuming, and they rarely offer second chances.
“The more prestigious the guy is, the more respected the guy is, the more complex the case is going to be,” Lanning told me. “What made it [the Sandusky case] a successful prosecution is that they didn’t rely on one victim. They found eight.”
And because they found eight, Jerry Sandusky is off the streets and away from our kids.