The day before jury selection was set to begin in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse trial, the judge overseeing the case ruled that some of the former assistant football coach’s accusers cannot testify under pseudonyms.
Attorneys for alleged victims 3, 4, 5 and 7 had earlier filed motions seeking to have their clients true identities shielded from the public due to the stigma accompanying child molestation cases.
While the alleged victims are now adults, the accusers’ lawyers had argued, testifying under their real names could still affect their lives in a negative way in adulthood.
“Having considered the issue, it is my view that there is no support in Pennsylvania law for offering anonymity to an adult witness because the witness is one of a class of victims of a particular form of crime,” Judge John M. Cleland wrote in his June 4 order. “It may well be in a specific and unique case that a particular witness, for any number of reasons, ought to be protected with a pseudonym. But only one of the alleged victims who filed such a request in this case supported it with evidence of potential harm, and even that affidavit asserted the kinds of generalized traumatic impact from testifying that would occur to any patient in treatment.”
Cleland wrote that during the pre-trial phases of the case, all “reasonable efforts” have been made by the court and counsel for both sides to protect the identity of the alleged victims, and that effort will continue through jury selection.
“While I will make every effort to be sensitive to the nature of the alleged victims’ testimony, once the trial begins the veil must be lifted,” Cleland wrote.
Cleland went on to write that courts are not customarily in the business of withholding information, and that “secrecy is thought to be inconsistent with the openness required to assure the public that the law is being administered fairly and applied faithfully.”
The judge’s order states that while he’s sympathetic to the difficulties associated with having an alleged victim of such an intimate crime testify in the open, “as citizens we have certain responsibilities to protect the safety and security of the community as a whole, and to that each of us has a duty to the community to testify when called to do so regarding the facts of an alleged crime – no matter how personally unpleasant fulfilling that duty may be.”
On the same day he issued his order regarding the pseudonym issue, Cleland issued an order prohibiting members of the media attending the trial from texting or tweeting from inside the courtroom.
An earlier decorum order issued by Cleland last week was challenged by various media outlets as confusing with regard to the language used.
In his clarification, Cleland said that while credentialed media members would be allowed to have with them their cell phones and laptops as “tools of the trade,” they would not be permitted to send electronic transmissions from within the confines of the courtroom.