Monday, December 5, 2011

Witness tampering in Sandusky case?

A lawyer for one of the alleged victims of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach who now faces 40 counts of child sex abuse, says Sandusky's long New York Times interview raises new questions about whether he may have attempted to influence witnesses just before he got indicted. NBC's Michael Isikoff reports.

Sandusky's dinner with alleged victims raises new legal questions
By Lisa RiordanSeville and Hannah Rappleye
NBC News

While under investigation by a criminal grand jury for allegedly sexually abusing young boys, Jerry Sandusky said he spoke to and even dined with men now identified as his victims. The 67-year-old former Penn State assistant coach accused of sexually abusing young boys for more than a decade holds up these encounters as proof of his innocence, but a lawyer for at least one of the victims believes they could be criminal.

“One of the questions that raised in my mind, ‘Was this an effort on his part to tamper with witnesses?’” said Howard Janet, a Baltimore attorney representing the man known in the grand jury report of Sandusky as Victim 6. “Was it intended as a way to influence the public or the prospective jury pool?”

In early November, Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of sexually abusing boys over a period of about 14 years. But the community knew of the investigation months earlier.

The story went public on March 31, when the Patriot News newspaper broke the story that a grand jury had been convened to look into allegations that Sandusky abused a 15-year-old Clinton County, Pa., boy, now known as Victim 1.

The following day, Sandusky’s lawyer, Joe Amendola, issued a statement saying that his client was prepared to fight.

“Should the allegations, as set forth in today’s newspaper article eventually lead to the institution of criminal charges against Jerry, Jerry fully intends to establish his innocence and put these false allegations to rest forever,” he said.

Interviews with lawyers and the grand jury report show that in the months that followed, Sandusky made several attempts to contact boys who had participated in the charity he founded -- the Second Mile – and who later testified before the grand jury, prompting Janet to question whether Sandusky tried to sway the outcome of the investigation.

Witness tampering in the state of Pennsylvania is defined as any act with the intent to intimidate a witness or victim to “refrain from reporting a crime, withhold or give false or misleading information, or to ignore or evade requests for information or a summons.”

Under state penal codes, witness tampering is considered equal to the most serious offense a defendant is charged with. Among the charges against Sandusky are multiple first-degree felonies, which carry maximum sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

Sandusky has not been charged with tampering or intimidation of witnesses.

A 'reunion' dinner
In July, Sandusky called Victim 6 and asked him to dinner. Sandusky framed it as a “reunion” of former Second Mile children, Janet said. Police asked the alleged victim to wear a wire, Janet said, but he eventually decided not to because he was nervous.

Victim 6 testified before the grand jury that Sandusky showered with him on the Penn State campus. Sandusky was investigated in 1998 after the boy’s mother reported the incident to the police. Sandusky at the time admitted that he had showered with the boy – as well as another youth whose name surfaced in the subsequent investigation -- and was advised by a Penn State University detective not to do it again. The district attorney closed the case.

On the night of the July dinner, Victim 6 said he met Sandusky at his home then continued on, along with Sandusky’s wife, to a local restaurant. Janet said his client was “surprised” to find no other former Second Mile children he knew among those at the restaurant, but he finished the dinner and reported back to the police.

In an interview with NBC, Janet said it was “inconceivable” that Sandusky did not know he was under investigation at the time. “It was public knowledge and it was widely reported,” he said.

According to Amendola, Sandusky’s lawyer, Victim 2 was also at the dinner. Victim 2 is the boy who Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary testified to seeing being raped by Sandusky in the showers in Penn State’s Lasch Football Building in 2002. Victim 2, however, has not been identified by prosecutors and did not testify at the grand jury.

Amendola told reporters in November that a man he believes is Victim 2 had appeared in his office weeks before to say he had no sexual contact with Sandusky.

Amendola said that both Victims 2 and 6 maintained a relationship with the Sanduskys in recent years, including visiting their home and attending other dinners. The July dinner, he said, was friendly. “Neither of them had any knowledge 2 or 6 had been or were going to be questioned” by the grand jury, and there was no mention of the investigation, Amendola wrote in a statement to NBC.

“Jerry and Dottie have maintained positive contact with 2 and 6 as well as many other kids they helped who have grown into adulthood over the years,” he said. ”They are both deeply saddened and perplexed by the allegations.”

Sandusky and his wife also reached out to at least one other alleged victim prior to his testifying, according to the grand jury report. Victim 7, a former Second Mile participant who Sandusky allegedly met around 1994, told the grand jury that weeks before his testimony, Sandusky, his wife, and an unidentified friend left several messages on his voicemail. It had been nearly two years since he last spoke or had contact with Sandusky. Victim 7 said he did not return their calls.

Sandusky confirmed to the The New York Times that he had contacted at least one of his accusers but did so believing he would serve as a character witness. He said he did not know the prosecution had listed the individual as a victim.

An unorthodox defense strategy
Sandusky’s defense has so far been unorthodox. He spoke live to NBC’s Bob Costas following his arrest and last week gave an extended interview to the New York Times.

Asked by Costas if he was sexually attracted to young boys, Sandusky said, "Sexually attracted, no -- I enjoy young people, I love to be around them."

The New York Times revisited the comment last week in an extended, four-hour interview in which reporter Jo Becker asked Sandusky about his answer to Costa's question.

"If I say, no, I'm not attracted to boys, that's not the truth because I'm attracted to young people, boys, girls," Sandusky said.

Amendola, sitting nearby, jumped in. "Yeah, but not sexually, you're attracted because you enjoy spending time..." he said.

"Right, I enjoy, that's what I was tryin' to say, answer that," Sandusky clarified. "I enjoy spending time with young people. I enjoy spending time with people."

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