By Brad Segall and Ben Simmoneau
BELLEFONTE, Pa. (CBS) — The judge hearing the Jerry Sandusky case has ruled that eight of the alleged victims will not be able to use aliases when they testify against the former Penn State assistant football coach. It’s a decision that has shocked a local expert.
Since Jerry Sandusky’s arrest seven months ago, the public has known his accusers only by number: 1-10. Today, Judge John Cleland denied a request from five of the accusers who asked the court to protect them from giving their real names in front of the media and the public who will be present in the courtroom.
But the judge denied the request, saying that state law doesn’t give him the authority to allow adults to protect their identities in open court.
Dr. Sue Cornbluth, an adjunct psychology professor at Temple University who has worked with hundreds of sex abuse victims, says that decision could impact their testimony.
“It can make them feel very shameful, and it may hold them back from sharing the graphic details possibly that they were prepared to share,” she says.
Cornbluth believes it also may give the 68-year-old Sandusky more power over his alleged victims in the courtroom.
“It potentially could be damaging to other victims, not only in this case but in any other cases,” said Thomas Haworth, Ph.D., who works with victims of sexual abuse at Philadelphia’s Joseph J. Peters Institute. He worries the judge’s decision could deter other victims from coming forward to report crimes because it is embarrassing and deeply personal.
“There is something different about sexual abuse,” Haworth said. “There’s a message out there to victims to maybe not tell.”
But the judge disagreed, arguing that sex abuse victims should not be granted special protection: “No victim of crime, after all, is spared the trauma of crime’s effects,” Judge Cleland wrote in his order. “Arguably any victim of crime would prefer not to appear in court, not to be subjected to cross-examination, not to have his or her credibility evaluated by a jury – not to put his name and reputation at stake. But we ask citizens to do that every day in courts across the nation.”
The judge said he hopes media organizations will stick to their longstanding policy of not identifying sex abuse victims. Media organizations, including CBS Philly, typically do not identify people who say they were sexually abused.
Judge Cleland also banned texting by reporters or others from the courtroom, and resolved a dispute over research into potential jurors, a day before jury selection is scheduled to start in Sandusky’s trial on charges he sexually abused 10 boys.
Sandusky, 68, faces 52 charges he abused 10 boys over 15 years, allegations he has repeatedly denied. He remains confined to his home as he awaits trial.
Ben Andreozzi, who represents one of the alleged victims, said the ruling won’t stop his client from testifying against Sandusky, but that having his name made public in open court could make it harder for him to live his life.
“It’s almost as if he’s being branded with a scarlet letter,” Andreozzi said. “This is something he may not ever be able to escape from — ‘Oh, he’s one of Jerry Sandusky’s victims.’ ”
Cleland also denied a request by Sandusky’s lawyer to order the attorney general’s office to turn over information it has collected about potential jurors. Cleland said there was not enough evidence to warrant a hearing on the matter, and noted that prosecutors have said they have only done what a diligent defense attorney would do.
“Even if the Commonwealth collected the information in this case in the manner the defense asserts and which the Commonwealth denies, I do not believe that the information is constitutionally required to be turned over to the defense,” Cleland wrote.
The basis for the defense request was an anonymous letter that claims to list the information prosecutors have collected.
Cleland has not ruled on defense motions to have some or all of the charges thrown out, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not ruled on a motion by Sandusky filed late Friday that requests a delay in the start of trial.
Cleland previously had said he would allow electronic communication, but not photographs or the recording or broadcasting of any verbatim account of the proceedings while court is in session.
Media groups sought clarification on Friday. In response, Cleland rescinded permission for any electronic communications from inside the Centre County courtroom.
“It is readily apparent from the allegations in the media’s motion … that the standard I applied in my definition is confusing to reporters, unworkable, and, therefore, likely unenforceable,” the judge wrote.
The rules Cleland put in place are typical for Pennsylvania trials. He noted a state criminal procedure court rule that prohibits transmission of proceedings in session by phone, radio, TV, or “advanced communication technology.”
At least 250 reporters have registered to attend the trial.