Guest Post: Watching Sandusky’s Sentencing
Dana Carlisle Kletchka ’10g and her husband, Paul ’05, not only have been a part of the Penn State community since 2000, but also live next door to the home of Jerry and Dottie Sandusky. So they’ve followed the events of the past year with special interest. They attended Jerry Sandusky’s sentencing on Tuesday; we asked Dana to write about the experience.
On Tuesday, my husband I sat in the next-to-last row of seats in a crowded Victorian courtroom and listened as a judge sentenced the man we knew as our next-door neighbor to 30 to 60 years in prison, thus ending a nearly year-long story that we could not have imagined in our wildest dreams.
Eleven years ago we moved into a neighborhood that is so tucked away that it was not uncommon for food delivery drivers to request specific instructions on how to reach our home. Now, months after Jerry’s conviction, there are still strange cars that move slowly up the street, pause at the end of the road in front of the Sandusky home, and then turn around in our driveway before silently vanishing back into the trees.
Our drive to Bellefonte was not unlike many of our other trips to the quaint Victorian town, though it was punctuated with a nervous silence and a sense of urgency. It wasn’t until we were in line for public passes and it looked like we had a good chance of getting in to the court room that I allowed myself to take in the spectacle that was in front of me—dozens of reporters with perfectly coiffed hair and pressed trench coats clutching microphones and checking their mobile devices, big white trucks with large call letters on the side and satellite dishes hovering over them, and sound technicians in warm jackets bending over their equipment, disposable cups of steaming coffee in hand.
Across the street, the burned-out shell of a hotel, nestled in between two beautiful Victorian buildings, stood as witness to destruction, and it occurred to me that it was an apt metaphor for all of the damage and pain that our community and university has endured for nearly a year, for the hurt and sadness that untold numbers of young men experienced at the hands of someone we knew as a somewhat aloof presence in an otherwise close-knit neighborhood.
For 11 years, we had a fairly unremarkable relationship with Jerry—we waved back and forth when we saw him outside, playing with his dogs, members of his family, or Second Mile kids; we kept an eye on the house when he and Dottie went out of town; and our daughter played with some of his grandchildren when they visited. I can count on my fingers the number of times that we engaged in an actual conversation—I had always figured that he was preoccupied with his charity work and football, neither of which I knew much about.
On Tuesday, we sat in a packed courtroom and listened as Judge Cleland explained what it meant to be designated as a sexually violent predator, then heard Jerry’s defense attorney remind everyone in the room that his client maintained his innocence, even as he legally accepted the ruling. As each of the three young men who made statements stood up, it occurred to me how young each of them still are—their dress shirts hanging off of shoulders that are still narrow and new to adulthood. The first two spoke to the judge for the most part, but the last one mustered up the courage to address—and face—Jerry directly. It was a profoundly moving moment, one I will never forget.
The previous evening I had heard Jerry’s prepared statement to a student radio station and I knew more or less what to expect when he stood up to the podium. It would be an understatement to say that it was difficult to bear hearing him launch into a paean for a modern-day Job, glorifying his life and lifting up banal moments as if they were worthy of carving in stone. I watched the back of his gray head bob up and down and his red, jumpsuit-clad back shift slowly from side to side as he implored the judge not for mercy but to understand that somehow this had all been a big misunderstanding, provoked by a desire on the part of nearly everyone to bring down a great man who would no longer be allowed to enjoy even the comfort of his dog.
A few minutes into his 18-minute tirade, I began looking around at others, who seemed just as uncomfortable watching this train wreck unfold—many of them averted their eyes and bowed their heads, almost as if they were praying or meditating. I looked up at the elaborate circles of gold acanthus leaves and Greek key designs decorating the ceiling and wondered how these ugly things could be said under such classical beauty. I squeezed my husband’s hand as he shook with shock and anger and watched the increasing redness of his other hand as it closed in on itself, tighter and tighter.
We ached for a sense of closure and finality in this strange chapter of our lives as we watched Jerry walk out of the room, knowing that was the last time we would ever see him in person. We still have a long way to go on the path toward healing and moving forward, as do so many others. But there is no other choice but to learn from this experience and move on, keeping the safety of our children in our hearts and our minds as we go.
Dana Carlisle Kletchka ’10g is curator of education at the campus art museum.