One year since charges were filed against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, his original State College attorney — Joe Amendola — still can’t believe the happenings of the past year.
From the initial investigation, which started more than three years ago, to the sentencing in mid-October, Amendola reflected on what it’s been like to become a national face in the midst of what many continue to call the “Penn State scandal.”
Q: Why did you initially decide to take on the Jerry Sandusky case?
A: Because I was involved since the first allegations with accuser number one. Back then, it was a relatively minor allegation, that Jerry touched accuser number one over his clothing. Jerry professed his innocence, but over the course of the next several months, information changed dramatically. There were allegations about oral sex, really very significant serious sexual misconduct. Until the day that we received charges last Nov. 5, we had no clue about the eight sets of charges. I felt I had an ethical and moral cause to stay with him. So many people abandoned him. It was really sad.
Q: How involved were you through the investigative process? What did you expect from the start?
A: Well, it’s common for us not to know about the grand jury. We were compliant through the process, even to the point when it became obvious that they would charge him with something. But [the attorney general] wanted to go out and surprise him. When they went on that Friday night, Nov. 4, he wasn’t even home. They called me around nine o’clock at night and said we decided you can turn him in. I chuckled because I knew what had already happened. Jerry was going to visit his grandkids that night. I think they were embarrassed. At this point, the media had information and started reporting. That’s my perspective.
Q: Did you ever foresee this becoming the national news story it transformed into?
A: I’ve had high profile cases in the past and knew there would be publicity, but I never dreamt in my wildest nightmares that the national media would grab on and take off with this.
Q: How did this case affect your social life? Did you receive disapproval or support from the community?
A: I always thought that the surrounding community would be a positive for Jerry. I thought, quite honestly, where else could he try to maintain the presumption of innocence other than the area where he did so much good over the years.
As for my life, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the people who would at least privately contact me and say they really respected the fact that I didn’t bail out on Jerry, who thought he wasn’t getting a fair deal in way the case was handled. I’ve gotten my share of emails and letters asking how can you represent a monster, but not as many as you would think. People have been really supportive.
Q: How did the trial affect your law practice in State College?
A: My practice went from a very busy criminal defense practice to basically defending one client. I think what happened — and what I was told by many attorneys — was that everyone just thought I was so busy and wrapped up with his case.
Q: How did the case affect your family and your social life?
A: I couldn’t go out. Not because of someone verbally abusing me but because everyone wanted to talk about the case. It eventually became the situation that I was eating, sleeping and drinking Jerry Sandusky’s case. I wasn’t able to spend time with my young kids. My practice became one-dimensional because of circumstances. The media kept me in the media eye. It appeared that I was working every day, which I was — 18-hour days weren’t uncommon.
Q: Where do you go from here?
A: Now the challenge is that things really have wound down. I am available for business and I’m eager to get my general practice back. People said they didn’t think you’d be interested in representing normal people now. It’s funny how many people have told me that.
Q: Now that you're preparing for appellate court, what are you expecting for the future? How long could we expect this to go on?
A: It depends on how the appeal process goes. The other attorney we brought in, Norris Gelman, handles specifically appellate matters, but he wants me to stay involved because of my knowledge. I think he realizes I did a good job based off of what we have and I will continue to help him.
Q: What will you most remember about this case?
A: I think the biggest surprise was the media attention, especially from the national media. They were persistent, every day. Not a day went by that I didn’t have 10 to 15 inquires.
As far as a defining moment, it always goes back to Nov. 6. I was absolutely shocked by the sense almost immediately from the media that Jerry was guilty. It was almost as if everyone took the attorney general’s criminal complaint and the grand jury findings as a finding of fact and basically just concluded that Jerry was guilty. Just to sense that we were fighting such a battle, where in an ordinary battle it’s the presumption of innocence, yet we were fighting this seemingly 100 percent feeling that Jerry was guilty. It just seemed to me that people made up their minds on Nov. 5 last year. Come hell or high water, Jerry was guilty.