In January, 2018, I reported how Fred Crews, former chair of English at UC Berkeley, had published an article in Skeptic Magazine that cast strong doubt on the conviction of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky for child abuse. Sandusky has been in prison since 2012, convicted, as Wikipedia notes, of “eight counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, seven counts of indecent assault, one count of criminal intent to commit indecent assault, nine counts of unlawful contact with minors, 10 counts of corruption of minors and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of children.” He was sentenced to 30-60 years in jail, which is a life sentence for a 77-year old man.
The “evidence” as reported in the press convinced nearly everyone (including me) that Sandusky was guilty. But then I read Fred’s article, which itself mirrored a book on the thin evidence by Mark Pendergrast, The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment. Knowing that Fred was scrupulous in dealing with evidence, and that the evidence against Sandusky was, to put it mildly, very weak or even fabricated, I wrote a post calling for that evidence to be reexamined, which could lead to a new trial. As I recall, readers were mixed in their views, but many of them considered Sandusky absolutely guilty, and some felt that one shouldn’t even bring up the case, as it involved pedophilia and Sandusky must have been guilty to be convicted.
Well, I think that if you feel that way, you should read the piece on Medium below, a longer exposition of the Sandusky case by Fred. I won’t summarize it, as my letter endorsing its publication (also below) points out the weak spots in the case.
Fred then condensed the article for publication in a widely-read venue (“Saint Sandusky”, below) and, as you can imagine, had trouble placing it in any magazine or website. Finally, though, someone decided to publish it, and it does deserve to be published. If you want the short-form defense of Sandusky, read the following:
The place that accepted it, curiously, was the Catholic magazine First Things, and I was glad that these issues were finally going to get a public airing. At the very least, there are serious flaws in the case against Sandusky that need to be heard. Surely we all agree that everyone deserves a fair trial, and if the facts adduced in “Saint Sandusky” be true, Sandusky’s trial wasn’t fair.
After Fred submitted the article above to First Things, I, along with several others, wrote a blurb endorsing “Saint Sandusky”‘s publication. But then the magazine got cold feet, and First Things bailed. They cancelled the publication of “Saint Sandusky.” That sad story of journalistic cowardice is recounted in a short piece by Fred at Medium, the “2 min read” below:
An excerpt from “The Unspeakable Sandusky”:
. . . Sandusky, now 77 years old, has been imprisoned since 2012, but he still insists on his innocence, and–believe it or not–there isn’t a shred of credible evidence that he ever molested anyone. Indeed, it is now known that he was physically as well as morally incapable of doing so.
Since Sandusky first began to be demonized in the press, 14 months before his trial, no print magazine has published a single word in his defense. Until recently, I hit the same wall myself when trying to place an essay detailing the many troubling aspects of the case. My luck seemed to change, though, in December 2020 when an editor at the conservative religious magazine First Things solicited my essay, provocatively titled “Saint Sandusky?” Although I am neither conservative nor religious, I found a tolerant atmosphere among the staff. The article was scheduled for publication on July 9, 2021, in the magazine’s August/September number.
Anticipating outrage and canceled subscriptions, the editors asked me to gather favorable opinions that could be posted online to cushion the blow. Easily done. In circulating my drafts to friends and acquaintances, I had already accumulated many heartfelt endorsements. First Things intended to post statements submitted by Noam Chomsky, Elizabeth Loftus, Carol Tavris, and Jerry Coyne among others. But those testimonials didn’t appear, because . . . the article didn’t, either.
First Things is a vehicle of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. At the eleventh hour, as the mortified editors informed me, the institute’s Catholic board canceled publication of my article. Perhaps you can guess the reason: the Church has a pedophilia problem, and Jerry Sandusky is assumed to be a pedophile. It was thought best to avoid any association, however remote, between Catholicism and his cause.
Now you may ask yourself “How was Sandusky physically incapable of molesting children”? This is what the article has to say:
But Jerry had another, even more telling, medical deficit that would have forestalled priapic feats. He had been born with vestigial testicles that left him almost devoid of testosterone and, necessarily, less interested in sex than other men. That is one reason among several that no pornography was found in his possession; he was closer to a eunuch than a satyr. Revealingly, his conspicuous deformity went unremarked by every “victim,” including all thirty-six who would eventually divide Penn State’s settlement pie of $118 million.
It’s unthinkable that the lawyers didn’t make a big deal of this in his trial, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered. If ever there was a rush to judgment, it was the Jerry Sandusky trial. You can’t even get the counterevidence published!
First Things‘s acceptance and then rejection is cowardice, pure and simple, and so Fred had to place “Saint Sandusky” on Medium as well. Fred’s comment on this pusillanimous site:
To my mind, this timidity is sadly ironic. Sweeping sexual abuse under the rug has been routine policy for the Church, and it has only magnified the worldwide scandal of predation and hypocrisy among the anointed. Moreover, we know that some priests have been falsely accused by fortune seekers–an exact parallel to the Sandusky case, as my essay shows. And finally, Jerry Sandusky himself happens to be a devout Methodist. The editors of First Things had supplied their guardians with every reason to believe that a man of faith has been wrongly incarcerated, but that consideration was overruled by image polishing. As I wrote to the editors, “Your board is Catholic, but it isn’t Christian.”
I’ll reproduce below the letter I wrote in support of the publication of “Saint Sandusky” in First Things, which gives some idea of the holes in the case:
Response to “Saint Sandusky”
Although Jerry Sandusky’s conviction for pedophilia is universally accepted, until I read Frederick Crews’s “Saint Sandusky” I had no idea how thin the evidence for that verdict is. The legal conviction, as well as the public’s firm view of Sandusky’s guilt, now appears to be based on a variety of evidence—all of it questionable. Much of the testimony from accusers is based on the discredited technique of recovered memory therapy, in which psychologists or psychiatrists, whose diagnoses are predetermined, induce people to remember things that didn’t happen by planting suggestions in their mind. Further, the evidence of Sandusky’s accusers was inconsistent, with some even asserting that Sandusky never engaged in a pedophilic act, but later changing their minds under pressure. The inconsistency extends to the timeline itself, with discrepancies of nearly a year in when Sandusky’s acts are said to have occurred. Some testimony was retracted but the retractions were ignored. And there was also an explicit pecuniary motive, with some accusers deciding to testify after a huge payday from Penn State was in view. Further, police questioning of accusers was hardly “neutral,” with the police telling them before questioning that Sandusky had been ascertained to be a pedophile.
Crews’s narrative shows that the conviction of Sandusky was a put-up job, confected by the desire of police, prosecutors, therapists, and Penn State itself to get Sandusky into prison as soon as possible.
While Sandusky may indeed be guilty of the crimes of which he’s accused, it’s clear that the investigation of his alleged pedophilia was motivated not by a desire to find the truth but to convict him. As for a fair trial, forget it. While one can’t judge Sandusky’s guilt or innocence from Crews’s article, the article makes a compelling case that Sandusky didn’t receive justice in any sense. Justice can be dispensed only with a retrial or a hard-nosed legal review of the record. Unless that happens, Sandusky will sit in prison until he dies.
But don’t take my word for it, read either of the first two links above and judge for yourself if there was a miscarriage of justice.