Unorthodox Pa. lawyer preps for Sandusky hearing

By Maryclaire Dale

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 10 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Joe Amendola, attorney for former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, waits near his vehicle as members of the media attempt to talk to him outside the office of Centre County District Justice Daniel R. Hoffman in Bellefonte, Pa., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Sandusky was arrested and jailed Wednesday on new child sex abuse charges brought by two new accusers, including one who claims Sandusky molested him numerous times in a basement bedroom, according to authorities.

The Patriot-News, Andy Colwell, Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — As he defends a sports figure charged with sexually abusing 10 young boys, and manages a case that led to the firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, defense lawyer Joseph Amendola has defied conventional wisdom and come out swinging.

He let his client, retired Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky, get on the phone with NBC's Bob Costas. Then he put him through two days of interviews with The New York Times.

Amendola insists the 67-year-old coach is not the serial predator described by the grand jury, which charged Sandusky with dozens of counts of child sex abuse, including fondling and rape, dating to the mid-1990s.

Despite widespread criticism of his tactics, and questions about his own personal life, the Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Penn State says he's ready to face his client's accusers at a preliminary hearing Tuesday. About 200 reporters and spectators are expected at the hearing, when a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to hold the case for trial.

"I do have a strategy. There is a method to my madness," Amendola, 63, told The Associated Press on Saturday. "This has been a well-thought-out strategy."

His defense strategy has been, at a minimum, unorthodox. Legal experts are left wondering if Amendola, a small-town solo practitioner working in the glare of the national spotlight, is at loose ends — or crazy like a fox.

A daylong procession of young men are expected to testify Tuesday that they were sexually abused by Sandusky, the longtime defensive coordinator for Penn State's powerhouse football program and the onetime heir apparent to Paterno, major college football's winningest coach.

"As bad as it's going to be — and I don't have to tell you what the media frenzy's going to be, it's going to be crazy — but I think if we waive it, we're losing a really important opportunity for Jerry, who maintains his innocence," Amendola said.

The accusers say they were molested at Sandusky's home, on campus, on Penn State road trips and elsewhere. The scandal has provoked angry criticism that Penn State officials didn't do enough to stop the alleged assaults, and led to the ouster of both Paterno and the school's president, Graham Spanier.

In many criminal cases, both high- and low-profile, lawyers keep their clients quiet.

But Amendola put Sandusky on the phone with Costas, who asked if he were sexually attracted to boys. The retired coach paused, and pondered the question. Then the lawyer had to jump in when Sandusky bobbled the question a second time with the Times.

"If I say, 'No, I'm not attracted to boys, that's not the truth, because I am attracted to young people ...'" Sandusky said.

Amendola cut him off.

"Yeah, but not sexually! You're attracted because you enjoy spending time (with them)," he said.

"Right, that's what I was trying to say," Sandusky said, according to the Times' videotaped interview.

The exchange stunned many veteran trial lawyers.

"It was horrifying to me that his lawyer let him speak to the press," Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, a former prosecutor, said this past week. "It was so damaging. It was really sort of a suicidal act, legally, for him to give that interview."

A few, though, hold alternate views.

The conventional wisdom doesn't apply in pedophilia cases, when there's often a widespread presumption of guilt, said celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, whose clients included Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson. Lawyers sometimes have to take an unorthodox path, he said.

"You get a presumption of innocence if you're famous; you get a presumption of guilt if you're infamous," Geragos said.

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