Attorneys give failing grade to Sandusky for NBC interview
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Facing 40 criminal counts and an onslaught of negative publicity about the child sexual abuse charges against him, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky did a nationally televised interview Monday night with Bob Costas on NBC's "Rock Center," in which he declared his innocence.
Lawyers and public image experts say that trying to turn the tide of opinion by talking publicly is a risky proposition, and all those interviewed agreed that Mr. Sandusky's performance almost certainly made things worse for him.
Particularly troubling, they said, was the lengthy pause Mr. Sandusky took before answering the question, "Are you sexually attracted to young boys, underage boys?"
First, Mr. Sandusky hesitated, then repeated the question: "Am I sexually attracted to underage boys?"
"Yes," Mr. Costas answered.
"Sexually attracted, you know, I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But no, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys."
It took seven seconds before Mr. Sandusky said the word, "no."
"It really screamed out for a 'No,' and a very emphatic, 'No,' " said Glenn Selig, an image consultant based out of Tampa, Fla. "He didn't seem very passionate about his answers, and there were hesitations that could be problematic."
Robert Del Greco, a prominent Pittsburgh attorney who has represented a number of professional athletes, agreed that Mr. Sandusky's answer was lacking.
"I think it was inartfully and ineloquently answered," he said. "I think you ought to be prepared to categorically and emphatically address it. Forcefully."
Both men said it appeared Mr. Sandusky was not well prepared for the interview.
"It seemed like he wasn't even able to convince himself," said Mr. Selig, who represents former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "There were areas, at the very least, where he wasn't very steadfast in his denial."
Mr. Del Greco agreed.
"My sense is he did not convey the thought and concept he was trying to convey -- that he is not a pedophile," Mr. Del Greco said. "He almost seemed to be hedging."
Ed Garland, an attorney in Atlanta who represented Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in criminal charges, as well as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, agreed Mr. Sandusky was not convincing.
"I would have thought this would have been a far more straight-forward, vigorous denial of the accusations," Mr. Garland said.
"You would expect him to be assertive."
Mr. Garland said that allowing a criminal defendant to do such an interview is a calculated risk, but one that should not be taken unless he and the lawyer have "complete mastery of all the facts" of the case and know exactly how it will be defended.
Generally, Mr. Del Greco said, criminal defendants should not do interviews while charges are pending because there is a risk that they may say something that could be used as an admission against them later.
In Mr. Sandusky's case, during the interview Monday night, he acknowledged that he did take showers with young boys.
"Well, in retrospect, I, you know, I shouldn't have showered with those kids," he told Mr. Costas.
That could be viewed as an admission to the crime of indecent exposure, Duquesne University Law School professor Nicholas Cafardi told McClatchy Newspapers.
That misdemeanor count is defined as when a person exposes his or her genitals "in any place where there are present other persons under circumstances in which he or she knows or should know that this conduct is likely to offend, affront or alarm."
Although, Mr. Sandusky denied having any inappropriate sexual contact, he did admit to showering with young boys.
Even if Mr. Sandusky is not charged with indecent exposure, his acknowledgement that showering with boys was inappropriate does not help his cause.
"The things he admitted to, most people would think are troubling, and that's the problem," Mr. Selig said. "You want people to see themselves in you. Who can relate to him based on his answers?"
If Mr. Sandusky was attempting to score public relations points, though, Mr. Del Greco said he should have gone on camera.
"If the objective is to protest your innocence, one's credibility is best assessed by seeing someone," he said. "If you're going to do TV, I think you have to have the face."
Mr. Garland agreed.
"Hiding from the camera is not a good idea," he said. "He needs to look directly into the camera, look the audience directly in the eye, and make a persuasive statement that, 'I am innocent.' "
Normally, Mr. Selig said, he would agree that video must be included in such an interview.
But after listening to Mr. Sandusky he thinks doing the interview on the phone was "probably the smartest thing they did.
"I think it would have been even worse. At least you don't have the expressions or the shocked look," Mr. Selig said. "In hindsight, thank goodness there was no video, for his sake, because it would have been monumentally worse."
Mr. Costas said the interview with Mr. Sandusky was an impromptu one.
The idea behind Mr. Sandusky conducting an interview would be to plant a seed of doubt in the public mind and try to make himself appear likable, Mr. Selig said.
"The jury pool is the court of public opinion," he said. "He's been painted as a monster. You're, at the very least, trying to level the playing field. You're trying to undo the damage prosecutors are doing in the court of public opinion."
While that was likely the motivation, Mr. Del Greco said, he doubts that in this case it will work.
"I think the general public has already made up its mind, and he's been vilified," Mr. Del Greco said.
"It probably would have been impossible for him to persuade anyone of the notion he engaged in no wrongdoing."
First Published November 16, 2011 12:00 am