Sandusky strategy may pivot on accuser credibility

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Sandusky strategy may pivot on accuser credibility

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- The case against Jerry Sandusky, whose trial begins Tuesday with jury selection, could boil down to a simple question: Will the young men who claim the former Penn State assistant football coach sexually abused them be viewed as credible witnesses?

That's often the case in criminal trials, legal experts say, but even more in a case with allegations that go back many years and little or no forensic evidence.

"In any case I've tried like this, the people who are the accusers have to come across exceedingly well," said veteran Harrisburg defense attorney Matt Gover. "And the defense has to demonstrate a theory to the jury that there's motive for them to lie or fabricate."

Prosecutors allege Sandusky engaged in a range of sexual abuse of 10 boys over 15 years, charges he has repeatedly denied. Eight of those 10 alleged victims have been identified by investigators, and most, if not all, had been prepared to take the stand at Sandusky's preliminary hearing, which he waived at the last minute in mid-December.

Sandusky's lawyers will have their grand jury testimony to compare against whatever they say on the stand at trial, and have indicated they will try to show some of the accusers have collaborated, hoping to cash in through civil litigation.

The defense has sought potentially damaging material from the alleged victims' pasts, including any history of making up stories, criminal arrests and psychological problems.

"Joe Amendola has said during some of the hearings that the defense is going to turn on a claim that some, if not all, of these victims had motives to fabricate these allegations," said Wes Oliver, a law professor at Widener University School of Law.

John E.B. Myers, a law professor at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento and author or editor of eight books on child abuse, said the core issues in the Sandusky case are the same as many others.

"I think the overall issue is and always has been the child's credibility," he said, adding that the issue of memory will come into play, as alleged victims are now adults.

Legal and scientific research also shows an interesting fact about juries in abuse cases, Myers said. "The one thing the literature is clear about is that women tend to believe children more than men do," he said.

The sex abuse case led Penn State's board of trustees to fire the legendary Joe Paterno as head football coach; leaders later said he hadn't done enough after he fielded an abuse allegation from a team assistant. The university's president was also ousted, and two administrators were charged with lying to a grand jury. At word of Paterno's firing, students rioted in the streets of State College, and Paterno's treatment remains a sore spot for many alumni and fans.

The expected testimony of Mike McQueary, an assistant coach who was a graduate assistant a decade ago when he says he witnessed what appeared to be Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy, could be a critical part of the prosecution's case. Sandusky lawyers will undoubtedly try to undercut his credibility through the use of his grand jury testimony, his testimony at a hearing in the related perjury case of the two university administrators, and statements about what he saw made at the time and in the intervening years.

Prosecutors recently had to amend the charges against Sandusky to allege that the incident McQueary said he saw occurred in February 2001, not in March 2002 as previously indicated.

"One of the real questions, it seems to me, that the prosecution has to face is whether they put McQueary on" the stand, Oliver said. "If the jury is left with the impression that the independent witness is making up stuff, then why would people who stand to benefit from this not make stuff up?"

The attorney general's office will have to counter any contradictions or gaps in their witnesses' memories with a demonstration that they do recall the heart of the matter -- the alleged criminal acts for which Sandusky will be on trial, said David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor. The existence of multiple accusers should help prosecutors, he said.

"View it as silt in a riverbed," Harris said. "Their testimony will build up in layers. So even if there are individual problems with the testimony of particular witnesses, the picture will fill in as a whole."

Prosecutors, who unlike the defense have had access to the accusers during trial preparation, presumably know where any weaknesses in their testimony will be, and have developed a strategy to counter them, Harris said.

A. Charles Peruto Jr., a veteran defense attorney in Philadelphia, said Sandusky's lawyers can try to attack witnesses' credibility through cross-examination -- looking to shoot holes their testimony -- and by presenting evidence and testimony establishing witnesses had motives to lie.

"You're not going to have all eight (testify) in a credible manner," Peruto said. "I don't believe that there's going to be eight victims painting a picture. It's never that easy for the prosecution. Some of them get cold feet, some of them really mess up on details, and the way the details are driven home by the lawyers is going to make a difference."

Peruto said any conventional wisdom that the charges are a slam-dunk could work against the prosecution.

"You can never count a jury as a layup in any case," he said. "The more potential jurors read the case is ironclad for the prosecution, the more potential for rebellion."

Before they deliberate, jurors will probably get an instruction from the judge that tells them they can believe all, some or none of a given witness' testimony, Gover said. He said the existence of multiple alleged victims will be a powerful tool for the prosecution, recalling a trial in which he represented a defendant a year ago in a sexual abuse case with four accusers.

"When you have one victim on the stand crying, that's one thing," Gover said. "When you have four on the stand crying it's incredible. And it was devastating." His client was convicted.

2012 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

Baylor to fire football coach Briles, re-assign president

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Baylor to fire football coach Briles, re-assign president

WACO, Texas -- Baylor University's board of regents said Thursday that it will fire football coach Art Briles and re-assign university President Kenneth Starr amid questions over the school's handling of sexual assault complaints against players.

The nation's largest Baptist university said in a statement Thursday that it had suspended Briles "with intent to terminate." Starr will leave the position of president on May 31, but the school says he will serve as chancellor.

The university also placed athletic director Ian McCaw on probation.

Baylor asked a law firm last year to conduct a review of its handling of sexual assault cases following allegations that the football program mishandled several cases of players attacking women.

The university's statement said the review revealed "a fundamental failure."

Baylor has faced increasing criticism in recent months for its handling of reports of rape and other violent incidents involving football players and students. One victim has sued the university, saying it was deliberately indifferent to her allegations against a former player who was eventually convicted of sexually assaulting her.

Starr ordered an investigation last year but has been mostly silent amid mounting criticism over the school's handling of the complaints, which erupted under his leadership. He took over as the university's president in 2010, about a decade after the former prosecutor investigated former President Clinton's sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewisnky.

The football team, whose players were at the center of the upheaval, enjoyed unprecedented success under Briles' tenure, including two Big 12 championships in the last three years. That success brought a financial windfall, and in 2014, Baylor opened a new, $250-million on-campus football stadium. But Briles' program has also been criticized for recruiting or accepting transfer players without regard to the harm they might cause fellow students.

Starr rode the waves of the program's success, and often ran on the football field with Baylor students in pregame ceremonies. But as investigations began into the school's handling of sexual assault allegations against players, Starr provided only brief comments, even as criticism of the school mounted.

In a February statement issued by university, Starr said "our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence." And at a prayer breakfast last month, Starr told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I am in favor of transparency. Stand up, take your medicine if you made a mistake."

Baylor's Board of Regents was recently briefed by a law firm hired to investigate how the school responded to assault incidents, and the school on Thursday released a summary of its findings. Starr initiated the review in 2015, after former football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexually assaulting a female soccer player.

Ukwuachu, who was convicted in 2015, transferred to Baylor after he was dismissed from Boise State. Ukwuachu's former girlfriend testified during his rape trial in Texas that he had struck and choked her when he attended Boise State.

Ukwuachu's former coach, Chris Peterson, now the coach at Washington, said he "thoroughly apprised" Briles about the circumstances of Ukuwachu's dismissal. Briles disputed that account, saying he talked with Peterson and there was no mention of the incident.

The school is also facing a federal lawsuit from a former student claiming the school was "deliberately indifferent" to rape allegations levied at a former football player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted in 2014 of sexually assaulting the woman.

The uproar following Ukwuachu's conviction caused Baylor to initiate the review by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, and to announce a $5 million effort to improve efforts on how it responds to sexual assault, including adding another investigator and more staff.

But the Ukwuachu case was just the start of months of revelations of football players being involved in violent incidents with little or no repercussions. At least seven other woman have publicly come forward to say the school ignored their sexual assault allegations.

©2016 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

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Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

Josh Hart said the decision wasn’t easy.

But he’s happy with it.

After withdrawing his name from the NBA draft to return to school (see story), Hart is excited to focus on Villanova, graduation and then the NBA dream.

“I love the school, I love the teachers, the student body, the support, my teammates that we have coming back,” the 6-foot-5 guard said Wednesday on Comcast SportsNet’s Philly Sports Talk. “So it was a tough one and I just thought at the end of the day, I think going back for my senior year would be in the best interest of my parents and myself.”

As a junior, Hart helped Villanova win its second national championship in program history by leading the Wildcats in scoring with 15.5 points per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.

Hart received plenty of feedback from NBA teams. He said shooting and ball handling are what he hopes to improve.

As far as his draft stock …

“There were teams interested maybe in the first [round], and then there were teams that said they would take me in the second,” Hart said. “But there’s a whole month before the draft, a lot of teams didn’t know exactly what they were doing with their picks — whether they were trying to trade up for a pick, trying to trade down, trying to trade a pick for a player. Several teams said that they would take me.”

For more from Hart on the draft and Villanova, watch the video above.

Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

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Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

Delaware has its new head basketball coach in Martin Ingelsby.

Ingelsby, a native of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, comes from Notre Dame, where he played from 1997-2001 and coached for 13 seasons, seven as an assistant.

Ingelsby played his high school ball at Archbishop Carroll and is the son of Tom Ingelsby, who played for Villanova from 1970-73.

Delaware is coming off a 7-23 season and 2-16 mark in CAA play, which led to the firing of head coach Monte Ross.

The Blue Hens, who announced the hire Tuesday, will formally introduce Ingelsby in a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Bob Carpenter Center Auditorium.