Jerry Sandusky Continues to Dig His Own Hole

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The former Penn State coach did better with his second media interview—but that's not saying much

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The good news for Jerry Sandusky is that his audio-video-print interview in Saturday's New York Times is nowhere near as bizarre or incriminating as was his NBC phone interview last month with Bob Costas. The bad news for the former Penn State coach, accused of being a serial child rapist, is that he nevertheless gave prosecutors and plaintiffs' attorneys still more live ammunition to use against him when his sex assault cases go to trial. Someone needs to tell this guy: When you are already in a hole, it's time to stop digging.

Here's a telling exchange that illustrates the point. From Jo Becker's important piece:

Asked directly why he appeared to interact with children who were not his own without many of the typical safeguards other adults might apply -- showering with them, sleeping alone with them in hotel rooms, blowing on their stomachs -- he essentially said that he saw those children as his own.

"It was, you know, almost an extended family," Mr. Sandusky said of his household's relationship with children from the charity. He then characterized his close experiences with children he took under his wing as "precious times," and said that the physical aspect of the relationships "just happened that way."

Wrestling, hugging -- "I think a lot of the kids really reached out for that," he said.

In the interview, Sandusky explains and justifies (but does not deny) showering with some of the children from the Second Mile charity he founded. He told Becker that he showered with these kids because he felt as though they were part of his own family. "There was a mutual feeling, a family-like feeling," with the boys, Sandusky said. Later, of the alleged rape of a child in the Penn State locker room in 2002, Sandusky told Becker that he told his supervisors at the time: "It didn't happen. In my mind it wasn't inappropriate behavior."

Of his physical relationships with the boys, he told Becker. "That was just me. I don't know.... The times that you had with them, all the times were precious times, they were significant times. They were going to have you and you were going to have them." I don't know what that means and I wish Becker had followed up. Because he has a constitutional right to remain silent, Sandusky cannot be forced to testify at his criminal trial. But he likely will have to explain this quote, under oath, when he is deposed during the civil litigation to come.

Becker directly confronted Sandusky about the worst part of his Costas interview, where he failed to say on national television that he was not "sexually attracted to young boys, to underage boys." The former coach told Becker that he was surprised by the question (why this would be so is baffling) and then repeated his view that he is "attracted to young people, boys, girls..." At this point Sandusky's lawyer, Joseph Amendola, interjected to point out that Sandusky didn't mean "sexually" attracted. Fair enough. But at trial, the lawyer won't be able to answer for the defendant.

Sandusky is sharing this information with the world because he wants to influence the opinions of potential jurors who will soon sit in judgment of him. He wants those jurors to believe that his heart was in the right place, that his motives were pure, and that he stopped short of preying on children. I am quite different from you, he is telling those potential jurors, but that doesn't make me a rapist. Because he cannot deny his proximity with all those kids for all those years, what else can he say other than his house was chaotic but not criminal?

From the prosecution's perspective, however, and from the perspective of civil lawyers, Sandusky's comments above fit neatly into the narrative that tracks the serious allegations against Sandusky. Here is an adult, entrusted with the care of children, who failed to observe what Becker called "typical safeguards." What Sandusky's public comments do is allow the lawyers arrayed against him to pivot to those same potential jurors and say: See? He still doesn't get it. He still doesn't understand how bad his conduct appears to the outside world.

When you combine that nugget with the notion that Sandusky is essentially confessing to portions of the case against him it's clear that he is making life easier, not harder, for his pursuers. And then there are the traps. One thing we now know for sure, for example, is that Sandusky's version of the 2002 shower episode is inconsistent with the account offered by Jack Raykovitz, the executive director of Second Mile. Maybe Raykovitz was always going to be a hostile witness for Sandusky. Then again maybe not. Now, for sure, he will be.

I can understand, on a human level, why Team Sandusky would wish for a do-over following the disastrous Costas interview. But on a legal level the Times interview makes little sense. As it is for most defendants, the more Sandusky talks, the more trouble he makes for himself. As if he weren't in enough trouble anyway.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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