BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Jerry Sandusky took the stand Friday to forcefully deny the child molestation charges he was convicted of four years ago and say it wasn’t his idea to waive his right to testify during his trial.
The former Penn State assistant football coach testified for an hour during an appeals hearing in which he’s hoping to have his 45-count conviction thrown out or get a new trial. The 72-year-old argued during a hearing in the courthouse near State College that he wasn’t properly represented by his legal team. The hearing is scheduled to continue Aug. 22 and Aug. 23.
On Friday, he told the court that he learned he would be doing an NBC television interview just minutes before it occurred and that his defense lawyer strongly advised him against taking the stand to reject claims that he had molested boys.
Sandusky said he was caught off guard when he was asked in the NBC interview about whether he was sexually attracted to children, to which he responded, “sexually attracted, you know, I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But no, I’m not sexually attracted to young boys.”
He was “absolutely surprised,” Sandusky testified Friday. “I didn’t expect anything that happened. I was not in a good emotional state.”
Sandusky’s previous lawyer, Joe Amendola, testified during the appeals hearing that he made a last-minute decision to put Sandusky on the phone with Bob Costas to simply assert his innocence, which Sandusky did before being asked about attraction to boys.
“Never in the world did I anticipate that kind of response,” Amendola said. He said he did not warn Sandusky that the interview could be used by prosecutors at trial, which is what occurred.
Sandusky also said Friday that he has never had oral or anal sex with anyone and found the thought foreign to him and personally disgusting.
The hearing also delved into the defense’s decision at the start of the case to waive the preliminary hearing as part of an agreement in which prosecutors did not seek to increase Sandusky’s $250,000 bail. Sandusky remained free on bail until his conviction but, without the preliminary hearing, his lawyers lost a chance to learn more about the witnesses and the prosecution’s case.
Sandusky said he wasn’t familiar with the court process and relied on his lawyers for advice.
“I couldn’t tell you at that point in time the significance of it and what it meant,” Sandusky testified.
He said he planned to take the stand until his adopted son alleged to investigators midway through the trial that Sandusky had abused him.
“Mr. Amendola called me extremely upset and concerned because Matt was going to testify for me and I believe the words he used, he flipped, he changed his story, he would testify against me,” Sandusky said.
Karl Rominger, a since-disbarred attorney who worked with Amendola at trial, said there was much discussion about Sandusky testifying.
“I believe we decided that given the commonwealth’s surprise revelation at trial about Matt Sandusky that it may have been in his best interest not to testify, but there were a lot of conversations back and forth on that,” Rominger told Judge John Cleland.
Eight young men testified at trial that they were abused as children by Sandusky, who spent decades at Penn State under head coach Joe Paterno before his retirement in 1999.
Sandusky founded a charity for at-risk children where prosecutors say he recruited victims.
Sandusky previously lost direct appeals to the state’s Supreme and Superior courts. The Friday hearing falls under the state’s Post-Conviction Relief Act and is confined to newly discovered evidence, constitutional violations and ineffective lawyering.
If Sandusky is successful, his charges could be dismissed, but that’s less likely than the chance the judge could order a new trial.
Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in Greene State Prison, where he’s been largely segregated from the prison’s general population out of concerns for his safety.