Lots of folks talking today about the Jerry Sandusky verdict. I’d say it’s a perfect example of the judicial system getting it right.
In a past life, I was a newspaper reporter. For the better part of 15 years, I covered cops and courts on a regular basis. I reported on thousands of arrests, hundreds of trials.
Covering a trial as a journalist really is a unique position. From a seat in the courtroom from start to finish, you see things from the jury’s perspective, of course. But especially in a state with strong open records laws, you’re privy to much more information than the jury ever sees. You get to report things the judge rules inadmissible, that the jury never hears. You get to report the conferences between prosecutors, defense lawyers and the judge that the jury leaves the room for. You have so much more information than the jury can even imagine.
You also learn pretty quickly to pick up on the lawyers’ maneuvering. You come to know that Prosecutor A builds a case quietly, methodically, piling fact upon fact to devastating effect. You discover that Defense Attorney B pounds the table, implies the prosecution’s star witness would sleep with his own mother while robbing his grandfather. Another prosecutor turns every trial into an old-time tent revival, with the defendant as either the devil or Judas — take your pick. The well-heeled, soft-spoken defense lawyer calmly lays out the facts, but does so in a way that some jurors will have trouble telling which way is up when she’s done.
But then you see another pattern emerging. The six, or 12, ordinary citizens sitting in the jury box, do their job. They hear the evidence, and they’re able to put the smoke and mirrors aside.
In all the trials I sat through in those 15 years, I’d have to say the jury — based ONLY on what they actually saw and heard — got it right about 90 to 95 percent of the time. Which is to say, they voted the way I would have, had I been in their place.
Were they perfect? No. There were a few times when I left the courtroom shaking my head, sometimes muttering “what the [bleep] were they thinking?” But the vast majority of the time, they got it right.
Based on what I know about the Sandusky case — which in this case, is far LESS than the jury did — this is one of those times they absolutely got it right.
Lots of us wondered whether a group of people with strong ties to Penn State could reach a fair verdict of someone who was such a visible part of their community. I’m happy to say they did.
Well done, jurors. Thank you.