Lessons of the Jerry Sandusky case

Lessons of the Jerry Sandusky case

June 26th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Jerry Sandusky

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Jurors convicted former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky on 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse late last week, ending one chapter in a sordid case that appalled the nation. Following the decisive verdict, greeted with cheers by a crowd outside the courthouse, the presiding judge revoked Sandusky's bail and ordered him to jail until sentencing. Barring a successful appeal, it is likely that Sandusky, 68, will spend the remainder of his life in prison. The verdict, however, does not bring an end to the sordid case and related events. It will reverberate in many ways and many places for a long time to come.

According to published accounts from jurors, there was little doubt among those sitting in judgment about Sandusky's guilt. Compelling testimony from victims enabled prosecutors to mount a strong case. Defense attorneys were unable to counteract the often graphic accounts of Sandusky's actions. Now, the case will move to other arenas.

While the verdict ends the Sandusky involvement in the case for the present, the conviction is a reminder that we should listen when those who say they are abused speak out. Regardless of age, they should be given full hearings. There's no reason -- ever -- to discount their testimony because of the status of the individual allegedly involved. It's better to listen and to investigate than to let a problem fester and to go unresolved with possibly disastrous consequences.

The Sandusky decision opens the door to what undoubtedly will be a number of lawsuits against Penn State. The university still must answer questions about its conduct in the case, including the possibility that it helped cover up allegations about Sandusky's conduct. Indeed, two former university officials already face trial on perjury charges connected to the case, and it is possible that former Penn State President Graham Spanier might be charged as well.

The PSU community continues to deal with the fallout from the charges against Sandusky, the manner in which they were handled and the unsparing publicity that has followed. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh has been hired by Penn State to lead an internal investigation. His work continues, with reports that he already has interviewed about 400 individuals on and off campus. If Penn State is to restore its once vaunted reputation for proper ethical conduct and to rebuild public confidence in all its programs, the report should be as free and frank as possible, with no effort to spin or sugarcoat its findings.

Given the compelling testimony and other evidence presented at trial, a guilty verdict for Sandusky is just. The case already has taught important lessons. It will no doubt teach more. The two most important, so far, are that child predators will be brought to justice and punished when judged guilty, and that heightened awareness of the issue is a major step in the necessary effort to reduce child abuse and the damage it does to its victims.