The door of the police cruiser had barely slammed on Jerry Sandusky, his loopy grin finally replaced by what appeared to be a dim understanding of his circumstance, when Pennsylvania State University announced its next phase of damage control in the matter of Sandusky's sexual-abuse victims.
"The university plans to invite victims of Mr. Sandusky's abuse to participate in a program to facilitate the resolution of claims against the university arising out of Mr. Sandusky's conduct," school president Rodney Erickson said in a statement released just after the 45 guilty verdicts against Sandusky were brought in Friday night. "The purpose of the program is simple. The university wants to provide a forum where the university can privately, expeditiously, and fairly address the victims' concerns and compensate them for claims."
The purpose of the program is very simple. That much is true. The university wants to get ahead of the tide of civil complaints that will be brought by the victims and buy short against a market that could turn against Penn State quite severely.
It's the smart thing to do - settle quietly, extract no-public-comment promises as part of the bargain - and move on. The school knows that a jury might reasonably find some of its top administrators liable for allowing Sandusky to remain on campus and for not taking allegations made against him to the proper legal authorities.
Penn State could risk waiting for those judgments to go in its favor after former vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz; on-leave athletic director Tim Curley; and, quite possibly, former president Graham B. Spanier are tried on various perjury and failure-to-report charges. That would be a huge bet with possibly devastating consequences, however, and not a risk the school appears willing to take.
The school might be calculating that the victims, many of whom came from troubled or disadvantaged backgrounds, will take the quick settlement rather than slog through a civil process in which they will once again have to recount the most painful memories of their lives. It's a pricey game of Let's Make A Deal, and some of the victims will probably take the money on the table rather than wait to find out what's behind door number three.
It would be hard to blame them either way, and Penn State loyalists who insist the school did nothing wrong should ask themselves why the school is so eager to settle with the victims. The top remaining administrators and the board of trustees know far more than any of us what really went on and know how many people within the football program and above were aware that "Jerry has a problem," or some whispered code of the same sort.
The fallout from Sandusky's crimes will take a long while to settle. Former FBI director Louis Freeh will issue the findings of his investigation, commissioned by the board of trustees, before the beginning of the fall term. He has already uncovered fresh evidence of potential wrongdoing by administrators and turned it over to the state Attorney General's Office. Then there will be the trials of Schultz and Curley, unless they accept plea agreements, and, after that, the civil action that remains to be settled.
"The facts are still developing," Justine Andronici, attorney for Victim 3 and Victim 7, told CNN Friday night. "Who knew about this, [and] how was Jerry Sandusky allowed to abuse children for years?"
Good questions and ones that make Penn State so nervous it opened up the checkbook as soon as Sandusky was hustled out of the back door, finally in handcuffs, having taken the last free breath of his life.
On the front side of the Bellefonte courthouse, defense attorney Joe Amendola was promising there would be an appeal process, just the latest of his hilarious routines, which included, as he was about to go live on worldwide television, asking if his interviewer was "somebody cute."
The truth is that Clarence Darrow couldn't have gotten Sandusky off, so it probably doesn't matter that Amendola never brought much of a defense to the table. He tried to argue conspiracy among the victims, and coercion by police and prosecutors, but the jury didn't buy any of it.
If there was a shred of light for Penn State from the verdicts, as far as legal liability, it was that the sole felony charge not upheld was one that arose from the testimony of Mike McQueary in the case of Victim 2, the boy in the Lasch Football Building shower room whose 2001 assault by Sandusky triggered much of the on-campus mess.
Sandusky was convicted of another first-degree felony and three misdemeanors as a result of McQueary's testimony, but the jury apparently wasn't comfortable with the fact that McQueary's story about possible anal rape has differed over the years. That blurriness could help Schultz and Curley and, by extension, will protect the memory of Joe Paterno, who received what even McQueary admits was a watered-down version of the incident.
Otherwise, it was a no-mercy-rule decision for the prosecution. Of the 52 original charges, four were dismissed by the judge for overlapping or not being supported by testimony; one felony and two misdemeanor charges were brought in as not-guilty; and in the remaining 45 counts, the defendant was guilty as charged, including 25 felony counts.
The scene outside the courthouse after the verdicts were read was unseemly given the gravity of the charges. There must not be much to do in Bellefonte on a Friday night, and the locals did everything but construct a county-fair dunk tank for Amendola.
It is a flawed system that we have, after all, but it is also the best one available. We do these things amid the public. People sit in a jury box and listen to complaints that are sworn to be true, then decide whom they believe. Human beings are on all sides of the process, and that means perfection isn't guaranteed.
We don't need to be reminded, after peering into the sordid, sick life of Jerry Sandusky, that imperfection is a part of the human condition. In fact, it is a given.
As the taillights of the cruiser disappeared around the corner, and Sandusky along with them, the president of Penn State presented his offer sheet, making it clear that the school might not have been perfect, either.