Monday, November 13, 2017

Memory Issues In the Jerry Sandusky Case

By Mark Pendergrast
For BigTrial.net

Like most people, I assumed that Jerry Sandusky must be guilty before I began to research the case in depth.  After all, there was that eyewitness of shower abuse, and all those accusers.  But I soon came to realize that memory malleability and suggestibility were central to how the allegations against Jerry Sandusky arose, and after in-depth research, I concluded that Sandusky is probably innocent. 

What really alerted me initially was reading the trial transcript for June 13, 2012, where I found Dustin Stuble (“Victim 7”) explaining why his testimony had changed from what he said under oath at the grand jury the previous year. “Through counseling and through talking about different events, through talking about things in my past, different things triggered different memories and [I] have had more things come back, and it’s changed a lot about what I can remember today and what I could remember before, because I had everything negative blocked out.”

Aha! I thought.  It is obvious that he was in repressed memory therapy.  I was right, as Struble himself told me later, and it turned out that repressed memories lay at the core of the case against Sandusky, while other memory issues lay at the heart of the infamous shower scene that got Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier fired.

 I write about how human memory works in comprehensive fashion in my new 444-page publication, Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die., as well as in the 399-page book, The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment.  They are “sister” publications that help to inform one another, so I urge people to read both of these books.  But I realize that a summary would be helpful before readers delve into the books.

Memory is reconstructive.  Our brains do not keep individual memories in one place, ready to be called forth by pulling out the proper mental file or hitting the right mental computer key.  Instead, our memories are stored all over our brains, and they must be reconstructed.  They are subject to contamination, confusion, change, and outright fabrication.  With the proper influence, people can come to envision and believe in emotionally stressful events that never occurred. 

Usually, our memories serve us relatively well, however.  We tend to remember most clearly the best and worst events.  We recall the nice things so that we can seek them out again, and we remember the upsetting events so that we can avoid them in the future.  Some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which involves being unable to forget severe trauma, but continuing to recall it all too well.  So it is not a matter of “repressing” or “dissociating.”

The most dramatic illustration of how destructive false memories can be created occurred during the heyday of the repressed memory epidemic of the late 1980s and 1990s, when many psychotherapists blatantly led their clients to believe that they had suffered years of childhood sexual abuse but had repressed the memories.  In many cases, people came to envision being in mythical satanic ritual abuse cults, where they killed and consumed babies and other grotesque fantasies.

Most people think that the repressed memory epidemic is over, but it is not.  A majority of Americans and psychotherapists still believe in the myth of repressed memories (or dissociated memories, as they are often called), and, according to a recent survey of a large cross-section of Americans, about 8 percent of those going to therapy in this decade came to believe that they had suffered child abuse that they had completely forgotten, then recalled in the course of therapy.

Thus, it is not surprising that the theory of repressed memory – the idea that people often totally forget abuse though some mental defense mechanism and then remember it later – lies behind some of the Sandusky accusations.  I was able to directly interview only one such alleged victim, Dustin Struble, who acknowledged his repressed memories, but there is evidence for memory distortion and/or repressed memories in many others as well.  I will go through them here relatively briefly.

Let me emphasize, however, that there were other factors contributing to one of the most amazing and disturbing miscarriages of justice of the 21st century.  These factors include a media blitz (and blackout of any dissent or inconvenient facts), police trawling and bias, prosecutorial misconduct, a flawed judicial process, illegal leaks, and greed. 

I will summarize each of the ten alleged trial victims, some of whom clearly had recovered “repressed memories” of abuse.  I’ll take them in the order in which they were numbered, plus Matt Sandusky, who did not testify, but whose story is central to the case.

Aaron Fisher, Victim 1:  As a 15-year-old, Aaron Fisher initially said that Jerry Sandusky had hugged him to crack his back, with their clothes on.  Over the next three years, with the urging of psychotherapist Mike Gillum, Fisher eventually came to “remember” multiple instances of oral sex.  Gillum apparently believed that memories too painful to recall lie buried in the unconscious, causing mental illness of all kinds—among them, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism. “They (abuse victims) just want to numb themselves and push away the unpleasant memories,” Gillum wrote in the book, Silent No More.  He sought to “peel back the layers of the onion” of the brain to get to abuse memories. Nor did Aaron Fisher have to tell him anything.  Gillum would guess what happened and Fisher only had to nod his head or say Yes.  “I was very blunt with him when I asked questions but gave him the ability to answer with a yes or a no, that relieved him of a lot of burden,” Gillum wrote.  In the same book, Aaron Fisher recalled:  “Mike just kept saying that Jerry was the exact profile of a predator. When it finally sank in, I felt angry.”

Fisher explained that “I was good at pushing it (memories of abuse) all away . . . Once the weekends [with Jerry] were over, I managed to lock it all deep inside my mind somehow. That was how I dealt with it until next time. Mike has explained a lot to me since this all happened. He said that what I was doing is called compartmentalizing. . . . I was in such denial about everything.”  Without the three years of therapy with Mike Gillum, it is unlikely that Aaron Fisher would ever have accused Jerry Sandusky of sexual abuse, and the case would never have gone forward.

Allan Myers (“Victim 2”) was the teenager in the shower in February 2001, when Mike McQueary heard slapping sounds that he interpreted as sexual.  In fact, they were the sounds of Myers and Sandusky slap boxing or snapping towels at one another.  McQueary did not see Sandusky and the boy together in the shower – he only caught a glimpse of the boy in a mirror.  He changed his memory nearly ten years later when the police told him that Sandusky was a serial molester. McQueary, like many people, did not require therapy to distort his memory.  Influenced by current attitudes, he came to envision that he had witnessed something he had not actually seen.  This is one of the well-known hazards of eyewitness testimony, as experimental psychologist Elizabeth Loftus and others have demonstrated. 

We do not know whether Allan Myers was ever in therapy to help retrieve abuse memories.  He received several million dollars as one of the alleged Sandusky victims, but he did not testify at the trial, and he has never actually accused Sandusky of molesting him in any kind of detail.  Initially, he provided a very strong defense of Sandusky, saying that he had never abused him, before becoming a client of civil attorney Andrew Shubin, who sent most of his Sandusky clients to therapy, quite likely to help retrieve repressed abuse memories. As reporter Sara Ganim wrote in November 2011, Shubin “teamed up with psychologists, social workers and a national child sex abuse organization so that these people [alleged victims] can seek mental help along with possible legal recourse.”

Jason Simcisko (“Victim 3”) told the police that nothing inappropriate had happened with Jerry Sandusky, when he was first interviewed.  When the policemen asked if Sandusky had helped him rinse off in the shower, perhaps lifting him up to the showerhead, Simcisko replied, according to the police report: “There might have been something like that. I don’t exactly remember, but it sounds familiar.”  This was the beginning of the process of manipulating his memory.  At the end of the interview, the police report noted that Simcisko “agreed to call if he recalled anything further.” 

 By the time of the trial. Simcisko had remembered Sandusky touching his penis numerous times.  He explained why he hadn’t revealed this earlier:  “Everything that’s coming out now is because I thought about it more. I tried to block this out of my brain for years.”  We don’t know for sure whether Simcisko was in psychotherapy or not, but Andrew Shubin was his lawyer.

Brett Houtz (“Victim 4”) did not make any abuse allegations to either his lawyer or the police during initial contact, but he did make allegations during a long subsequent interview with police, during which his lawyer was present.  The police inadvertently left the tape recorder on, revealing their grossly leading interview methods, which can sway memory as effectively as psychotherapy.  Police investigator Joseph Leiter said, “I know there’s been a rape committed somewhere along the line,” and noted that “it just took repetition and repetition” to get Aaron Fisher to say anything.  He said that the police would routinely tell prospective victims:  “Listen, this is what we found so far. You fit the pattern of all the other ones. This is the way he operates and the other kids we dealt with have told us that this has happened after this happened. Did that happen to you?”  This is a classic illustration of “confirmation bias,” in which the police had already predetermined in their own minds what that truth was. And in this case, Leiter was intent on getting Houtz to say that Sandusky had forced him into oral sex.  Eventually, Houtz did just that.

At the end of the interview, the police asked Houtz to try to remember more.  “What usually happens is when you start to think about things…it may be 3 o’clock in the morning, tonight, and you go, Oh, my gosh, I remember this or I remember that or whatever.” In that case, Houtz should call them. “Sometimes things come up and you remember more things in detail.”

By the time Houtz testified in devastating fashion at the trial, he was in therapy with Mike Gillum.  During the trial, Houtz said, “I have spent, you know, so many years burying this in the back of my mind forever.”  It is not clear if he was talking about repressed memories, but it certainly sounds like it.  On the other hand, Houtz had a long-standing reputation as a manipulative liar, and his father had initially contacted his lawyer with an obvious eye on money.

Michal Kajak (“Victim 5”) made allegations during his first contact with the police. We have no way of knowing whether Michal Kajak was in repressed memory therapy. By the time he spoke to the police on June 7, 2011, however, the abuse allegations against Sandusky had been publicized by reporter Sara Ganim, who had also contacted Zachary Konstas’s mother, who had, in turn, suggested that the police interview Kajak as a potential victim.  We also know that Zach Konstas’s sister had already talked to Kajak about the allegations.

At any rate, Kajak said, according to a police report, that “he did not want to remember this stuff.”  Kajak finally said that Sandusky had taken his hand and placed it on Sandusky’s erection for a few seconds during this single shower they took together. His story then was amplified somewhat over time, including a three-year shift in when the abuse allegedly occurred.

It is possible that Kajak, in envisioning the single time he had showered with Sandusky, convinced himself that this had happened. It is also possible that he spoke with his friend Dustin Struble, who was “remembering” his own abuse and might have helped him with his own shower story. Kajak’s allegations do not fit the modus operandi that the police otherwise thought Sandusky used. He was supposed to have “groomed” boys carefully before attempting more overt sexual abuse. The idea that Sandusky would have acted this way during the very first shower must have seemed odd, even to the police.

Zachary Konstas (“Victim 6”) never actually claimed that Sandusky abused him, although under the influence of the investigation and trial, he came to believe that Sandusky had “groomed” him for abuse in a 1998 shower.  The day after the shower, Konstas emphatically denied that any abuse had taken place. Over the subsequent years, Konstas expressed his admiration and gratitude to Jerry Sandusky for his role in his life through notes and greeting cards. In 2009, as a twenty-three-year-old, Konstas wrote: “Hey Jerry just want 2 wish u a Happy Fathers Day! Greater things are yet 2 come!” Later that year he wrote: “Happy Thanksgiving bro! I’m glad God has placed U in my life. Ur an awesome friend! Love ya!”

But Zachary Konstas’s perceptions were altered drastically between the fall of 2010 and June 2012. As Allan Myers did, Konstas got a lawyer. Although he never accused Sandusky of sexually abusing him, but he made it sound as though the coach had wanted to, that Sandusky had been “grooming” him for abuse. He also implied that perhaps Sandusky had abused him, but that he, Konstas, had forgotten it. Konstas may have come to believe that he had “repressed” the memories. He had asked his friend, Dustin Struble (“Victim 7”) “if [he] remembered anything more, if counseling was helping,” and Konstas himself was clearly undergoing psychotherapy. At Sandusky’s sentencing hearing, he said, “I have been left with deep, painful wounds that you caused and had been buried in the garden of my heart for many years.”

Konstas’s attorney, Howard Janet, explained in an interview how Konstas and the other alleged victims could “create a bit of a Chinese wall in their minds. They bury these events that were so painful to them deep in their subconscious.”

Zachary Konstas may not have recovered specific memories of abuse, but his reinterpretation of his past, along with implications that he may have repressed the memories, were enough for the jury to find Sandusky guilty of planning to abuse him.

Dustin Struble (“Victim 7”) admitted to me that he was in repressed memory, and his trial testimony makes that obvious as well.  He had no abuse memories until the police contacted him, and he considered Sandusky a friend and mentor until then.  State Trooper Joseph Leiter interviewed Struble for the first time on February 3, 2011.  By that time Struble had been thinking about the way Sandusky used to put his hand on his knee while driving, and now he thought he remembered Sandusky moving his hand slowly up towards his crotch sometimes. And other times, he thought Sandusky may have been trying to slide his hand down his back under his underwear waistband. Yes, he had taken showers with Sandusky, but nothing sexual had taken place there. He’d given him bear hugs at times, but not in the shower. They had wrestled around, but Sandusky had never touched him inappropriately.

At the end of the interview, Leiter was excited that Struble was open to the idea that Sandusky might have abused him, but that wasn’t enough. In ending the interview he “advised Struble that as he recalls events to please contact me and we can set up another interview. Also, if he begins having difficulties with his memories to contact me so that assistance can be found.”  Struble entered psychotherapy less than three weeks later.

By the time of the trial, Struble had changed his story, asserting that Sandusky gave him bear hugs, washed his hair in the shower, and then dried him off.  He said that Sandusky had put his hand down his pants and touched his penis in the car, that Sandusky had grabbed him in the shower and pushed the front of his body up against the back of Dustin’s body.  On the stand, he explained:  “That doorway that I had closed has since been re-opening more. More things have been coming back…. Through counseling and different things, I can remember a lot more detail that I had pushed aside than I did at that point.”  Struble went on to explain more about how his repressed memories had returned in therapy.  He further explained:  “The more negative things, I had sort of pushed into the back of my mind, sort of like closing a door, closing—putting stuff in the attic and closing the door to it. That’s what I feel like I did.”

In 2014, I interviewed Struble in his home in State College, PA.  In a follow-up email, he wrote:  “Actually both of my therapists have suggested that I have repressed memories, and that’s why we have been working on looking back on my life for triggers. My therapist has suggested that I may still have more repressed memories that have yet to be revealed, and this could be a big cause of the depression that I still carry today. We are still currently working on that.”

 Phantom Victim (“Victim 8”) is the product of double hearsay testimony that should never have been allowed at the trial.  A janitor named Ron Petrosky said that another janitor, Jim Calhoun, had told him in the fall of 2000 that he saw Sandusky giving oral sex to a young boy in a Penn State locker room shower.  By the time of the June 2012 trial, Calhoun had Alzheimer’s and could not testify, but the judge allowed Petrosky to do so.  Sandusky was found guilty of molesting this unidentified boy.

But in a taped interview on May 15, 2011, Jim Calhoun had told the police that Sandusky was not the man he saw giving oral sex to a young man in the shower.  The defense apparently had not listened to the tape and never entered it into evidence in the trial.

Sabastian Paden (“Victim 9”) came forward after the explosive Grand Jury Presentment became public on November 4, 2011, and the Office of the Attorney General publicized a hotline for prospective Sandusky victims.  At that point, it was clear to civil lawyers and alleged victims that there was a possible financial windfall to be had.

Paden’s changed attitude towards Sandusky occurred incredibly quickly, after his mother called his school to ask them to contact the police.  When the police appeared at his door, Paden denied having been abused.  Sometime in October 2011, the high school senior was seated in Beaver Stadium beside Sandusky, enjoying a Penn State football game with a friend.  Less than a month later, however, Paden rocked the grand jury with accounts of his former life as a virtual captive in the Sandusky basement, where he claimed to have screamed for help, to no avail, even though the basement was not soundproofed and there was no way to lock him down there. Paden said that he was forced to perform oral sex on numerous occasions, and that Sandusky attempted anal intercourse over sixteen times, with actual penetration at times.

It is unlikely that repressed memory therapy was involved in encouraging Sabastian Paden’s memories, at least at the outset, since his grotesque allegations arose within just a few days of his mother’s initial phone call. It is instead likely that he was either telling the truth or that he was consciously lying, at the urging of his mother and in search of remuneration and sympathetic attention.

Ryan Rittmeyer (“Victim 10”) also responded to the Sandusky hotline after the case exploded in the media.  He had been incarcerated twice—for burglary in 2004, at age seventeen, and in September 2007, when he was twenty, for burglary and assault. He and a teenager assaulted an elderly man on the street, punching him in the face and leaving him with permanent injuries. Rittmeyer was sentenced to twenty-one months in prison and was released in 2009.  At the time of the trial, he was married, with a pregnant wife.  After he called the hotline, Rittmeyer was represented by lawyer Andrew Shubin.

At his first police interview with officer Michael Cranga on November 29, 2011, Rittmeyer said that Jerry Sandusky had groped him in a swimming pool. Then, while driving a silver convertible, Sandusky had allegedly opened his pants to expose his penis and told Rittmeyer to put it in his mouth. When he refused, Sandusky became angry and told him that if didn’t do it, Rittmeyer would never see his family again. “His life went downhill” subsequently, Cranga wrote in his report, which Rittmeyer apparently blamed on this traumatic event.

During his grand jury testimony on December 5, 2011, Rittmeyer changed and amplified his story. Now he said that something sexual occurred almost every time he saw Sandusky throughout 1997, 1998, and part of 1999, once or twice a month. Finally, Rittmeyer said that he eventually complied and gave Sandusky oral sex, and vice versa.

Jerry Sandusky never owned any kind of convertible, nor was it likely that he borrowed or rented one, which would have been quite out of character for him. The Ryan Rittmeyer testimony, filled with inconsistencies as well as a mythical silver convertible, appears even more questionable because the Sanduskys said that they couldn’t even remember him, whereas they readily admitted knowing the other Second Mile accusers. He may have been one of the Second Mile kids who came to their home, but Dottie Sandusky didn’t know his name, and Jerry Sandusky said that if he met him on the street, he would not recognize him.

There was apparently no repressed memory therapy necessary in Rittmeyer’s case, though it is likely that Shubin sent him for subsequent counseling.

Matt Sandusky didn’t testify at trial, so he never received a victim number.  The last of the six children to be adopted by Dottie and Jerry Sandusky, at the age of 18, Matt had supported his accused parent during the investigation. In 2011 he had testified in front of the grand jury that his adoptive father had never abused him. But in the middle of the June 2012 trial, apparently after entering psychotherapy, he “flipped,” going to the police to say that Jerry Sandusky had abused him.

Matt told the police that he was working with a therapist and that “memories of his abuse are just now coming back,” according to the NBC announcer who played portions of the leaked interview tape. When the police asked whether Sandusky had sodomized him or forced him into oral sex, Matt answered: “As of this time, I don’t recall that.”

But by the time Matt appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s television show in 2014, he had remembered oral sex.  He made it clear to Winfrey that he had not recalled sexual abuse until he was in repressed memory therapy, but this apparently did not make her skeptical in the least. “So based upon what you’re telling me,” Winfrey said to him, “you actually repressed a lot of it.” And Matt replied, “Uh-huh, absolutely. The physical part is the part that, you know, you can erase.”

When she asked him about first coming forward to talk to the police during the trial, he said, “It was a confusing time.” It wasn’t as if he heard Brett Houtz and all his own abuse memories came rushing back. “My child self had protected my adult self,” he explained. “My child self was holding onto what had happened to me—and taken that from me—so I, I didn’t have the memory of—I didn’t have these memories of the sexual abuse—or with him doing all of the things that he did.” 

As he listened to the testimony of Brett Houtz and other alleged victims, he felt somehow that “they were telling my story,” but he apparently didn’t remember abuse right away. “They were telling—you know, all of these things start coming back to you, yes, [and] it starts to become very confusing for me and you try and figure out what is real and what you’re making up.”

In summary, then, repressed memories were key to many of the Sandusky accusations, including the first case which was also the only case for the first two years of the investigation.  Then, when Mike McQueary’s memory of the 2001 shower morphed into actually seeing abuse, the police began a frantic search for more alleged victims, who were “developed,” as prosecutor Jonelle Eshbach put it, through suggestive, leading interview tactics and civil lawyer and therapist involvement.  The jurors did not have the information they needed to evaluate the spoken testimony in its proper context.  If they had known how the testimony was nurtured and created, their opinions about the authenticity of the event might have been altered.

Instead, as we know, they found Sandusky guilty.  After the verdict, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly held a triumphant press conference outside the courthouse, during which she referred directly to the importance of repressed memories in the Sandusky case:  “It was incredibly difficult for some of them to unearth long-buried memories of the shocking abuse they suffered at the hands of this defendant.”


5 comments:

  1. I think that Mark may be a bit naive in what is going on. It is equally likely that the "victims" were given scripts to recite with the repressed memory stuff as a subterfuge.

    The Janitor Hoax should be looked at carefully. Why would they bring up Joe Paterno and the "culture of football" for why they never reported it? They were represented by the TEAMSTER Union! Was the target Joe Paterno, or did Fina, et al think they could score a hat trick by painting a picture of a little boy pinned against a wall, and take out Paterno and Spanier at the same time?

    There are more gaping holes in this hoax than the surface of Yucca Flats. The fact that Louis Freeh called this the most heinous rape to occur on the PSU campus does more than anything to prove his report is a total FRAUD!

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  2. This case will be the template for the Weinstein Case and all others of similar ilk.

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  3. Except that the accusers came forward themselves in the Weinstein case and were all adult women, who seem to have clear recollections, without the aid of psychotherapy.

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  4. With all the hundreds of sexual abuse allegations made recently against politicians and those in entertainment industry, I don't remember any that had a phantom victim, much less two phantom victims as in the Sandusky trial.

    To me, it is automatic reasonable doubt if the identity of the victim is unknown.

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  5. Wasn't Sebastian the guy who claimed (or Shubin scripted) to have had lunch with Paterno and Sandusky at Beaver Stadium? What a total fraud! And he attended football games with Sandusky in October 2011? Wow! Just like Alan Myers being in a golf foursome with Sandusky, Heim, and McCombie in summer 2011. This is what people who have been brutally abused do! Mute testimony to how people will tell horrific lies to get money. Rittmeyer seems to be one of the many polymorphs of Danny Gallagher. Incredible how much perjury was suborned by the OAG, including current AG Shapiro. Kajak's testimony is a provable lie (abused in the Lasch building during pre-season practice? No way in hell he got within 100 yards of that place the way Paterno guarded it!).

    ReplyDelete

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