Dozens of people stayed up near midnight recently to see former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky leave a courthouse. There will be a similar crowd in about 90 days, when the convicted pedophile hears a judge send him to prison for at least 60 years.
Sandusky, 68, deserves the most severe punishment possible for sexually molesting little boys and betraying the trust of not only the “Happy Valley” community, but the parents and guardians who sent troubled kids to his Second Mile charity.
Good. But this is a tragic necessity, not a street festival.
I may “un-friend” the next Facebook pal who voices hope that Sandusky will have done to him — forcibly, in prison — what he did to children. The same goes for many who write that he should be beaten on a regular basis, even killed, by fellow inmates. It’s as if they’re saying, “The Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment won’t let us do what Sandusky deserves. Fortunately, we have plenty of civic-minded, courageous sadists and sociopaths in prison to deal with guys like him.”
On an emotional level, it feels good to publicly proclaim ourselves better than anyone convicted of the most vile crimes. But didn’t we already know that? Do we need TV’s revolting Nancy Grace assuring us nightly that no imaginable punishment can ever fit this crime?
Jay Leno routinely jokes about what happens to men in prison. Would he seek yuks about a woman prisoner being assaulted, no matter how heinous her crime? Of course not, nor should he.
One of the strangest Senate debates I ever covered in Tallahassee involved an amendment requiring killers to be executed in the manner — shooting, stabbing, strangling — that they had killed their victims. Everyone knew it couldn’t pass, that it fairly shrieked of unconstitutionality, but there was a long debate and many laudatory letters to the editor afterward.
The concept would be like telling a prison guard, “OK, we need you to go into his cell with this crowbar and bash that guy’s head in.” Yet 40 sensible state senators actually discussed it for about a half-hour.
Sex sets people off, especially. We had a legislator several years ago who propositioned an undercover cop in a public men’s room. Not content with his misdemeanor fine, probation, humiliation, loss of political career, family damage and professional harm, thoughtful constituents clicked on the “comment” line of news stories to suggest the lawmaker would really love it in prison because — well, you know.
We don’t really believe those cliches about “innocent until proven guilty” or “the worst criminal is entitled to the best defense,” not when a sex offense is alleged, or a crime against a child. In Sandusky’s case, we see both.
The hallmarks of our legal system are its civility and lofty ideals. It channels our desire for revenge in constructive ways.
It’s good that Jerry Sandusky can never hurt another child. Perhaps his sentence will deter some pedophiles or cause others to get psychiatric help.
But that’s not what they were cheering about in Pennsylvania last week.
Bill Cotterell is a retired reporter of the Florida Capitol press corps.