A candid chat during a break between police and Victim No. 4 was apparently recorded by accident.
By Dan Wetzel
For 16 minutes the tape rolled, apparently unknown to two state police officers investigating Jerry Sandusky and the defense attorney of Victim No. 4 during an April 2011 meeting.
It’s turned into the strongest evidence yet that could create reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors about the guilt of Sandusky, who is facing 51 counts of child molestation. And it all played out Tuesday morning at Centre County Courthouse.
During the 2011 interview with police, Victim No. 4 was on a break and not in the room. The tape was left on and recorded a candid conversation between police and Victim No. 4′s attorney. Sandusky’s defense attorneys, and even Judge John Cleland, suggested Tuesday that it may call into question whether police led witnesses in their lengthy investigation.
“The issue is whether or not seeds were planted by the officer,” Judge Cleland said during a procedural argument with the jury present, inadvertently giving the defense the ultimate line to build its case around.
From the start, the Sandusky defense has alleged the former Penn State defensive coordinator was subjected to an overaggressive investigation that targeted him for years.
On the recording, state police corporal Joseph Leiter and Victim No. 4′s attorney, Ben Andreozzi, discuss the case. At that point, Victim No. 4 had not detailed the full extent of Sandusky’s alleged crimes, which would later include multiple accounts of forced oral sex in Penn State locker room showers.
Leiter tells Andreozzi about incidents with other alleged victims that police had uncovered.
“Oh, you’re kidding, the time frame matches up?” Andreozzi said. “Can we at some point say to [Victim No. 4], ‘Listen, we have interviewed other kids, other kids have admitted that there was intercourse. And they’ve admitted. Is there anything else you want to tell us?’ ”
Leiter acknowledged they could and that doing so isn’t unusual.
“Yep, we do that with all the other kids, ‘Listen, this is what we’ve found … This is what we found, this is how he operates. … This has happened and this has happened and that has happened,” Leiter said.
The conversation continued for 16 minutes until Victim No. 4 returned to the room and was given a Sierra Mist to drink.
Leiter then addressed Victim No. 4.
“You’re not the first,” he said. “I’ve interviewed probably nine kids, nine other adults. And you’re doing very well. It is amazing. If this was a book, you’d be repeating word for word what other people told us. And we know from these other young adults who talked to us that there is a pretty well-defined progression that he operated and he still operates to some degree.
“Often this progression goes on into a long period of time leading into more than just touching, there’s been actual oral sex that’s taken place by both parties and it is classified that an actual rape has occurred. I don’t want you to feel that again.
“I don’t want you to feel ashamed. You are a victim in this thing. What happened, happened. These types of things happen. We need you to tell us what happened. Again, we’re not going to treat you any differently … You are a victim of this crime.
“We need you to tell us as graphically as you can what took place. I just want you to know that you are not alone in this … I just want you to understand your not alone in this. By no means are you alone in this.”
Victim No. 4: “I understand.”
Leiter: “OK, we’re going to restart the recording. It is now 12:37. Again, we are going to continue the recording.”
Sandusky’s attorneys hammered Leiter and fellow state trooper Scott Rossman on Tuesday for potentially leading the witness and describing specific acts when they thought the tape wasn’t running.
They noted both officers previously testified they hadn’t done such a thing and that they never discussed specific acts with any of the 40 to 50 children they interviewed during the course of the investigation.
When recalled as witnesses, both had to acknowledge that in this case there had been discussion, although both officers declared it proper police tactics.
“Were there any other victims, witnesses, people that you interviewed that you would go off tape [with],” defense attorney Karl Rominger asked Leiter.
“Not that I remember,” Leiter said.
“Not that you remember, but you can’t say for sure,” Rominger said.
If anything, the defense was bolstered by a comment from Judge Cleland. In open court, with the jury seated and listening, the two sides argued to the judge how much of the tape should be allowed to play.
That’s when Cleland first said, “The issue is whether or not seeds were planted by the officer.”
He later said the issue was actually whether the officers’ testimony may not have been accurate when they said they never discussed specifics with witnesses. He used that reasoning to rule the prosecution couldn’t play more of the tape.
What effect the tape could have on the verdict is unknown. It was the first strong bit of evidence presented by a defense that otherwise has mostly relied on character witnesses for Sandusky. It goes to the heart of one of the key defense arguments.
And it may have been the judge that offered the best summation of what the defense was trying to accomplish.