Ex-PSU assistant coach’s petition gets hearing in state court session at county courthouse

Last updated: September 17. 2013 11:37PM - 1209 Views
SHEENA DELAZIO sdelazio@timesleader.com

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WILKES-BARRE — A panel of state Superior Court judges now have Jerry Sandusky’s fate in their hands as they consider an appeal made by his attorney, Norris Gelman, based on errors Gelman contends were made at the 2012 trial.

Sandusky, 69, was convicted of molesting 10 boys in a case that led to the firing of longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and NCAA sanctions against Penn State’s football program. Sandusky is serving a 30-to-60-year prison sentence.

Gelman argued at an appeal hearing held at the Luzerne County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon that because of the errors made at Sandusky’s trial 15 months ago, his client should be entitled to a new trial.

The high court, which often takes its court sessions on the road to provide an educational setting to communities, heard three appeals at the courthouse Tuesday afternoon — Sandusky’s, Michael Veon’s and Hernan Torres’ — and about 10 appeals in the morning at Dallas High School.

The court will hear about another 35 at the Dallas High School beginning today. The three hearings Tuesday were moved to the courthouse due to the “high level of media interest.”

A number of local and national media outlets were present in court Tuesday, as well as a others interested in the case. After Sandusky’s hearing, nearly all of the courtroom cleared out, with few people remaining to hear the appeals of Veon and Torres.

Dottie Sandusky there

Sandusky was not at Tuesday’s hearing, but his wife, Dottie, did attend. Dottie Sandusky told the media she visits her husband quite often at the State Correctional Institution at Greene in Greene County.

Superior Court judges Jack Panella, Sally Updyke Mundy and William Platt are presiding over this week’s appeals. They will issue rulings at a later date.

Gelman argued that three factors call for a new trial for his client:

• All of the victims except one delayed reporting the alleged abuse for a number of years and jurors were not instructed properly on how to consider that evidence;

• Sandusky’s requests for continuances of the trial were denied three times and defense attorneys could not adequately prepare;

• The prosecutor in the case inappropriately commented on Sandusky’s choice not to testify at his trial.

“None (of the victims) made a prompt report … . The time that elapsed (from when the incidents occurred to when they reported the alleged crimes) is striking,” Gelman said.

The jury in the case was not properly instructed on how to consider that evidence and that that information could have affected their verdict, he said.

Gelman also argued that prosecutor Joe McGettigan made mention during his closing argument to Sandusky not testifying and getting to hear what Sandusky had to say only in an interview with TV sportscaster Bob Costas.

“The judge should have done something,” Gelman said, noting McGettigan should not have been permitted to mention Sandusky exercised his right. State law does not require that a defendant has to testify in his or her own defense.

Gelman’s other argument was that Sandusky’s trial attorney, Joe Amendola, asked for continuances, which were denied, and had voluminous records to review in a short amount of time. The time between when Sandusky was charged and his case went to trial was about eight months.

“(Amendola) was flying blind,” Gelman said of the defense attorney. “That’s the worse way to try a case.”

State’s contention

Chief Deputy Attorney General James Barker argued Tuesday that Amendola made no objections to the instructions given to the jury at Sandusky’s trial and the jury was clear on what evidence it was to consider.

Barker also argued that a number of victims and witnesses testified about Sandusky’s conduct, and that even if there were errors made, they were harmless.

The mention of the Costas interview, Barker said, was in direct response to a comment made by Amendola about the interview.

Barker also noted Amendola did not move for a mistrial if he felt things were done improperly and that Amendola could have had “all the time in the world” to prepare for Sandusky’s trial, but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

“How many people need to testify Jerry Sandusky was molesting little boys?” Barker said.

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