The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

In this week’s eSkeptic, Frederick Crews reviews Mark Pendergrast’s book The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment: a sustained, comprehensive case—based on detailed evidence and reasoning—that Jerry Sandusky (found guilty on 45 counts of child molestation) was, in fact, blameless.

Editor’s Note

We are aware of the sensitive nature of the subject of this review and the book itself, given the fact that the sexual molestation of children is a real and troubling problem. And we cannot comment on whether or not Jerry Sandusky is innocent, inasmuch as the legal system is designed not to prove innocence but to find someone either guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or not guilty. However, it now appears that much of the testimony upon which Sandusky’s conviction was based relied on the “recovery” of “repressed memories,” a concept considered by the vast majority of psychological scientists to be unfounded. Given what we know about how memory works—it is not like a video recording that can be played back on the theater of the mind—the memories of those who testified are now so modified by their recovered memory therapists, police investigators, lawyers, and the media that the original memory of whatever happened may now be lost to history. The relevance of the subject to Skeptic magazine is that we published many articles on the Recovered Memory Movement in the 1990s and early 2000s (see links at end of review), and for a time it appeared that this scientifically discredited view of memory had faded from the scene. Alas, it is still with us. Efforts to identify and help the real victims of sexual abuse can only be set back by this baseless theory. If Sandusky’s conviction rests almost entirely on the tainted, “recovered” memories of those who claimed to be his victims, and the evidence persuasively suggests that it is, it would appear that the guilty verdict rendered against him may be unwarranted.
Michael Shermer, Editor-in-Chief, Skeptic and eSkeptic

Trial by Therapy:
The Jerry Sandusky Case Revisited

by Frederick Crews

“It was incredibly difficult for some of them to unearth long-buried memories of the shocking abuse they suffered at the hands of this defendant.” —Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Linda Kelly after the Sandusky guilty verdict

In June 2012, the 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky, for three decades a successful and admired assistant to Pennsylvania State University’s legendary football coach, Joe Paterno, was found guilty on 45 counts of child molestation and was remanded to prison for, effectively, the rest of his life. Sandusky was exposed as a serial pedophile on a scarcely imaginable scale, and 10 of his victims—presumably a small sample—were featured in his trial. Penn State would eventually pay $109 million (and counting) in compensation to at least 35 men who had been schoolboys at the time of their reported abuse. And presumably there were hundreds more victims. Since 1977 Sandusky had led a substantial program of his own devising for disadvantaged youth, The Second Mile, that was thought to have served him as a “candy store,” affording opportunities to “groom” neglected boys and then to have his way with them.

Jerry Sandusky around 1999 with Second Mile kids, most of whom later claimed that he abused them and received millions of dollars in settlements.

Jerry Sandusky around 1999 with Second Mile kids, most of whom later claimed that he abused them and received millions of dollars in settlements. (Photo from The Most Hated Man in America)

The Sandusky case was so mortifying that it triggered the firing of Penn State’s president, Graham Spanier, a vice president, Gary Schultz, its athletic director, Tim Curley, and the idolized Joe Paterno himself, at age 84 and after 61 years of service, for having abetted Sandusky’s crimes. Specifically, they had failed to take action after one horrific incident had been called to their notice. Paterno died of lung cancer two months after his shaming. Schultz and Curley, later indicted on felony charges, pleaded guilty to a compromise charge of child endangerment, for which they each received a two-year jail sentence (not entirely served). President Spanier protested his innocence but was convicted of the same offense and sentenced to four to 12 months of combined jail time and house arrest. (His appeal is still in process.) And in the wake of Sandusky’s own conviction, Penn State was fined $860 million and otherwise condemned and sanctioned for having placed sports mania ahead of helpless children’s welfare.

All that furor was commensurate with the depravity of Sandusky’s alleged crimes, divulged in sensational news reports after a grand jury “presentment” (summary) was released and dramatically recapitulated at the trial seven months later. A university janitor, Ronald Petrosky, testified that a fellow janitor, Jim Calhoun, had happened upon Sandusky, around the year 2000, giving oral sex to a boy in a university shower. And more directly, emotional Second Mile veterans told of having been subjected to multiple assaults. Under prosecution questioning, for example, Aaron Fisher agreed that between 2006 and 2008 he had been forced into oral copulation more than 25 times. Ryan Rittmeyer said that after initially fending off Sandusky’s advances, he gave in and repeatedly exchanged oral sex with his abuser. According to Brett Swisher Houtz, Sandusky had molested him in showers, in a sauna, and in hotel rooms, forcing him to assume “69” positions. There had been over 40 such events, Houtz reported, occurring two or three times a week. And Sabastian Paden told the grand jury of even more savage treatment.

None of those stories is as well remembered, though, as that of Mike McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback and coach who, as a graduate student at the turn of the century, had been serving as an apprentice to the coaching staff. Two factors set McQueary apart. First, by 2012 he was the only mentally competent person who claimed to have seen Sandusky in the act of molesting a boy. And second, he was the informant who had alerted Coach Paterno and thence Athletic Director Curley, Vice President Schultz, and President Spanier. “Remember that little boy in the shower,” Governor Tom Corbett admonished the governing board that was about to sack all four men. And that boy in the shower is what the American public remembers, too.

To judge from the grand jury presentment of November 2011, there was no doubt about what McQueary had observed a decade earlier. At about 9:30 on the evening of March 1, 2002, it was stated, McQueary, upon entering the locker room of Penn State’s Lasch Football Building, had heard “rhythmic slapping sounds” indicative of sexual intercourse. Sure enough, when he had peered into the communal shower area he had seen a boy, roughly 10 years old, with his hands against the wall, being sodomized by Jerry Sandusky. McQueary had been too flustered to intervene, but on the next morning he notified Paterno, assuming, mistakenly, that Paterno and higher officials would turn Sandusky in to the police. […]

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The Tail of the Lizard Man

In this episode of MonsterTalk, we creep narratively into the swamps of South Carolina as we talk of the strange lizard man who is alleged to live in the swamps outside Bishopville. Lyle Blackburn leads our expedition as he recounts the story as told in his book Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster. Lyle previously joined us for episode 106: What The Fouke? The Beast of Boggy Creek.

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