National columnist for Yahoo! Sports, Dan Wetzel was one of the limited media members allowed access into the Centre County courtroom during the trial in which Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse against minors. Dan shared his experience with Holden Kushner and Grant Paulsen Monday, describing everything in great detail from the torment of the victims as they recounted their horrid memories, to the reaction of Sandusky’s wife Dottie as the roar of the crowd from outside the walls bellowed in through the courtroom doors as the verdicts were announced.
Given the high-profile, disturbing nature of this once-beloved sports figure’s public fall from grace, the natural assumption is that covering this case would require a great deal of nerves. Wetzel explained that covering this was like nothing he’s ever been assigned to, and he won’t soon forget.
“I tried to look at it like I was honored to be one of the people to hear these guys stand up and tell their stories. It took a tremendous amount of courage. Two of them had just graduated from high school, they’re 18 years old.”
Dan admitted that he certainly wasn’t objective heading into the trial but was willing to let things play out with somewhat of an open mind, but as the victims began giving their testimony, it became immediately clear that his mind was made up about the former Penn State defensive coordinator.
“First witness they brought forth, victim #4, is a 28-year-old guy, no longer afraid of Jerry Sandusky, and he just let him have it. His testimony to me, was so compelling, so believable, so authoritative. This was like he had been waiting 15 years to deliver this day of reckoning on Jerry Sandusky and man, he did it.”
Dan went on to say that the prosecution had more witnesses willing to testify, but as the trial bore on, it became abundantly clear that it was an open-and-shut case; clearly no need to drag more abuse survivors through the painful experience of retelling their haunting memories, than was necessary.
“There are things you heard that you just don’t…I’m a sports writer generally, and this was not your mid-week NFL press conference, the things that got said, so it sticks with you for I’m sure, forever.”
Dan was asked to explain the general feeling in the courtroom as the verdicts were read. “Well the interesting thing here was it was 48 counts so it wasn’t just going to be like the movie case where you just say guilty or not guilty and the whole place explodes, ” Wetzel detailed, “He got 48 counts. This thing took almost 8 minutes.”
He went on to tell that the foreman of the jury who had the responsibility of reading all the charges had a “flare for the dramatic”. Wetzel described how the foreman would read each charge and leave a noticeable pause before delivering each verdict, then how emphatically he would hammer home the final dose…”GUILTY.”
“Sandusky had to stand there and listen to a charge and a guilty – 45 out of 48. Incredibly compelling and dramatic moment.”
As for the sentiment of the people in the courtroom, it would have been all but silence as they took each verdict in, except for one man.
“The courtroom is essentially silent except for the sobbing tears of Victim #6 who couldn’t contain himself and had charged Sandusky with abusing him in ’98 when the local District Attorney refused to take the case and charge Sandusky. Great vindication for him.”
When asked what the reaction was of Sandusky’s wife Dottie, who was also in the courtroom to witness her husband’s last moments as a free man dramatically being read away, Dan noted that it was the crowd reaction which seemed to hit her the hardest. Specifying that the people in the courtroom were isolated from the crowd assembled outside the building, they SHOULD not have ever heard outside reaction, but they did.
“The roar of the crowd outside was huge and it came rippling into the courthouse very loud, and it stunned everyone because it came out of nowhere. She shot her head up at the sound and realized and sunk her head down that the people of Centre County were cheering her husband’s demise.”
A man once cheered as a legend of Happy Valley, it was the sealed fate of Jerry Sandusky and an eternity behind bars that was now being lauded in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. From hero to villain, and deservedly so. From now until the end of time. Jerry Sandusky. Guilty.