It took a jury in Bellefonte, Pa., only two days to provide to Jerry Sandusky’s victims what Joe Paterno, officials at Penn State University and others did not over the course of many years: Justice.
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Sandusky was found guilty Friday night of 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse, including 14 first-degree felonies — charges that stem back to the 1990s, affected numerous victims and will almost certainly put the 68-year-old behind bars for the rest of his life.
Perhaps the most powerful scene of the evening was Sandusky leaving the courthouse after the verdict, his hands in cuffs, his short walk saying all that was necessary:
Justice finally found him, and with it a lifetime punishment that will keep him away from any other potential victims.
It was a fitting end to a harrowing saga of a powerful man who used his fame, his football connections and The Second Mile, a charity he founded, to coax helpless children into lives of sexual abuse.
The news in November that Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator under Paterno, had been arrested for something so heinous turned Happy Valley on its head. The idyllic college town that prided itself on its values and a tradition of excellence became a case study in chaos and the culpability of beloved men who turned a blind eye to what was wrong.
In Sandusky, we had someone who camouflaged himself as a man of the community suddenly exposed as a monster. In the orbit in which he operated, we had heroes and leaders like Paterno who had been warned of Sandusky’s behavior but failed to act to stop it. The scandal cost Paterno his job and his reputation despite the protestations of fans and family and some high-profile media members hell-bent on a football coach’s reputation instead of hard truths.
It led to charges against athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the school’s senior vice president for business and finance, who have been charged with failing to report sexual abuse and then lying about it to a grand jury. A hearing on the perjury charges is scheduled for July 11.
That, too, became the story behind the sex scandal: Those so determined to protect their careers and narratives and book deals and coaching legacies and fandom that they went into overdrive to focus not on Sandusky’s crimes and how they were allowed to go on but the idea we should wait to feel fury over what had happened. That fury was too inconvenient. That fury led to too many uncomfortable facts and unacceptable mistakes.
But the fury was too strong to be squashed because the allegations were so raw and real and unprecedented in their evil — both the evil of Sandusky’s actions and in the harder-to-peg but equally devastating evil of supposedly good men doing nothing.
This fury catalyzed a scandal that saw university officials resign and face their own charges for obstruction. Yet it still saw, as the evidence mounted, too many people focus on defending Paterno’s legacy and the school’s reputation instead of saying unequivocally that the victims came first.
So the eight victims of Sandusky on the 48 counts of sexual abuse faced a world around them clamoring too often for a football program’s redemption instead of unified support for them.
Friday night, then, if not sweet relief — how can there ever be relief to such lasting horror? — hopefully is the next best thing for those who suffered Sandusky’s torments: The knowledge he has finally been held accountable, the knowledge he will spend the rest of his life behind bars, and at long last the knowledge that having come forward and told truths they spent lifetimes trying to forget they have asserted some power over a man who used his own to inflict such damage.
“I want to offer my sincere thanks to all the young men, the victims in this case, who came forward to bravely testify in this trial,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly.
“And to finally put a stop to the crimes that had been committed by this defendant. They’ve shown great strength and courage during this investigation, candidly and at times chillingly telling their stories to not only the jury and a packed court room but also the entire world.”
The long-expected verdict came the same week that Sandusky’s adopted son came forward to tell prosecutors that he too was a victim of Sandusky’s abuse. Matt Sandusky’s lawyer told Sara Ganim of the Patriot-News of Harrisburg (Pa.) that Matt was prepared to testify as a witness against his adopted father.
So, yes, the horror goes on. The facts have been laid bare, but there is a good chance more are waiting out there to be discovered.
Whatever comes, we know that a football coach of a beloved program did in fact abuse children in the most nightmarish of ways, and that the victims keep coming forward. He was a serial child-abuse predator, a man who raped children and who used their vulnerabilities to feed his evil appetites. And, until now, despite enough people knowing enough to have come forward, no one put a stop to it.
For this reason, Sandusky continued to live in the same home in which he abused boys, his backyard abutting an elementary school, his crimes perhaps continuing, his victims still sleeping every night with the knowledge he was out there.
It has come too late, but it has come at last: Justice against Jerry Sandusky, a man who harmed the most vulnerable among us.
And if we’re lucky, what has come with it will be the message to victims everywhere that neither time nor threats nor the cover-ups and weaknesses of the craven can stop justice if a brave few are willing to seek it.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.