It was clear from the Grand Jury presentment that defending Jerry Sandusky amounted to being an exercise in futility, his attorney Karl Rominger said.
In his first full-length print interview, the principal attorney at Rominger Law Firm in Carlisle, Rominger had a number of surprising and not-so-surprising things to say about his infamous client and the Sandusky family.
It was fairly obvious to Rominger that Sandusky had become the most reviled man in Penn State University’s history – perhaps the most reviled in all of Pennsylvania.
It was Sandusky’s case that led to the removal of revered and legendary coach Joe Paterno and it was Sandusky’s case that sparked a fire storm of controversy from the university’s board of trustees all the way to the governor’s office.
Prosecutors would have won a conviction “in just a few hours, not the 22 or 24 hours it ultimately took” if their prosecution mirrored the Grand Jury presentation, Rominger said.
It was a victory for defense lawyers that it took about 22 hours to convict his infamous client.
“It was 48 counts, so it was about a couple of hours of deliberation per count,” he said. “Also, a lot was tied to one incident. For instance, if you tell your neighbor that you’re going to kill him, you can have five different charges from that one incident and if the jury finds that you made the threat, you can be convicted on all five. So, I take it (the amount of deliberation time) as vindication.”
Taking the case
Rominger, a Penn State-Dickinson College graduate, said a chief reason he took the case was to try and clear Paterno’s name.
Paterno was fired after Sandusky’s high profile arrest last year. His termination, like that of university president Graham Spanier, came after it was learned that assistant coach Mike McQueary said he reported to Paterno that he had witnessed Sandusky rape a boy in the showers at Penn State.
Trustees said it was the responsibility of Paterno, Spanier and anyone who knew about the incident to report it. Last year, Paterno said he recalled McQueary “vaguely” referencing “fondling” or “touching” or “horsing around” by Sandusky and a youth.
But, Paterno said, he never had the understanding that McQueary had witnessed a “sodomy” or “rape.”
Paterno, who died from complications due to lung cancer in January, had said he should have done more.
Ultimately, the jury found Sandusky not guilty in the two counts related to McQueary’s allegations.
“That, for me, vindicated Paterno,” Rominger said. “My position has always been that Paterno got the shaft.” The board of trustees’ hasty decision to fire the coach probably hastened Paterno’s demise, Rominger said.
“You break a man’s heart and spirit in his time of illness; it likely cost him his fight,” he said.
Rominger also speculated that McQueary didn’t see what was ultimately portrayed as Sandusky having sex with a 10-year-old boy.
He said McQueary is “a good man” and “probably got caught up in a statement that he had to stick to.”
Guilty or innocent
Rominger often spoke as if his client’s guilt or innocence wasn’t important.
While he said he’d continue to represent Sandusky “as long as Jerry wants me to,” Rominger wouldn’t say whether or not he thought his client was innocent.
“As a criminal defense lawyer, you don’t have the luxury of assuming your client is telling the truth,” Rominger said. “Even when a client tells you he is guilty, you have to be cautious that he isn’t throwing himself on his sword for someone else. I never ask about the guilt or innocence of my client.”
After visiting Sandusky in jail this week, Rominger said the disgraced and convicted child molester is “somber” and anxious to see his family.
“He is well aware and he is very sad about the position that he finds himself in,” Rominger said. “He’s tired and weary but he still wants to fight and he maintains his innocence.”
Sandusky has had no contact with his family since his incarceration and, prior to being handcuffed in court, he was ordered by the judge not to say anything to his family, not to wave or say goodbye, Rominger said.
“He followed orders like he always has and looked straight ahead,” he said. “So, he never got to say goodbye or anything.”
Sandusky, his wife Dottie, and members of the family were “shocked” by molestation claims made by adopted son Matt Sandusky, according to Rominger.
“It came out of nowhere,” Rominger said. “At the time he was adopted, Matt came with a very troubled background but the family still loves Matt. They are very disappointed about this.”
The attorney did offer what he said might be a plausible explanation for Sandusky’s behavior with children. And, he said, he wasn’t the one who thought of it.
“I was asked to do an interview with Dr. Drew Pinsky on his Headline News show and he brought up something that was interesting because a psychologist also brought this up, and that could really relate to this case,” Rominger said. “She (a psychologist) told me that children who have been assaulted previously and somebody then violates a boundary with them, risks a lot more with a child like that. By showering with the children and horsing around and touching their legs, it was a boundary issue that Jerry violated.
“Remember, Jerry was around thousands and thousands of troubled youth and he was violating boundaries with them, but that may be simply as far as it went,” Rominger added. “And, unfortunately, there’s been transference on a dozen kids. Look, Jerry founded the Second Mile charity in 1977 and there were no allegations to speak of until about 1995.”
Rominger said he has no regrets taking the case and he believes the Sandusky family are decent people.
“I have no reason to believe whatsoever that Dottie was aware of anything, if anything did occur that was criminal or inappropriate,” he said.