Friday, June 16, 2017

Manufactured Evidence: Victim No. 1 In The Sandusky Case

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark Pendergrast has once again allowed to publish an excerpt from his forthcoming book, THE MOST HATED MAN IN AMERICA.  Here he writes about Aaron Fisher, “Victim 1,” whose allegations started the case against Jerry Sandusky.  As Pendergrast reveals, it took three years before Fisher’s psychotherapist, Mike Gillum, prepared him  sufficiently to testify to abuse claims. After a brief introduction, we pick up the story in November 2008, after Fisher’s mother, Dawn Daniels, concluded that Sandusky might have molested her 14-year-old son, and that such claims could be her ticket out of public housing and into a home in the country . . . 

By Mark Pendergrast

Jerry Sandusky would probably be a free man today if 15-year-old Aaron Fisher had not begun to have frequent counseling sessions with Pennsylvania psychotherapist Mike Gillum.

Fisher was the son of Dawn (Fisher) Daniels, who was impregnated early in 1993 when she was 17 by her boyfriend Michael. Aaron was born on Nov. 9, 1993, and his biological father saw him only a couple of times, then disappeared completely by the time he was one year old.  His mother consequently gave him her maiden name, Fisher, as his last name.

Dawn then met Cliff when she was 18 and lived with him, unmarried, until Aaron was nearly five.  Then she married Eric Daniels, a relationship that lasted five years. "He began to abuse me when Katie was a baby,” she later asserted. “Eric turned out to be very controlling and he was emotionally and physically abusive." Katie, Aaron’s younger sister, was later diagnosed as bipolar.

Clearly, young Aaron Fisher had an unstable childhood.  His mother apparently enjoyed frequenting bars, getting drunk, and flirting with strangers.  In 2008, when Fisher was 14, the same year that the abuse claims arose, his mother posted photos of herself in a saloon, bragging of her extreme intoxication, on her My Space page.  

She had a glazed, happy look on her face, with explanatory captions: “Drunk as hell…lol; me at the saloon…who knows who that guy is…lol,” and a photo of her posterior, showing the top of scanty underwear, explaining “my thong, tha thong, thong, thong…look at that ass."

When Dawn Daniels began to think Jerry Sandusky might have abused her son, she alerted Aaron’s high school. Then, after her son made some extremely vague allegations, Daniels took Aaron Fisher to Children & Youth Services, where intake case worker Jessica Dershem interviewed the teenager.  Aaron did not reveal any overt sexual abuse. He only stated that Sandusky had cracked his back by hugging him with both of them fully clothed. Dershem then referred Fisher to Mike Gillum . . 

Disappointed with the insufficient details, Dershem called her supervisor, Gerry Rosamilia and complained that she had an uncooperative fifteen-year-old in her office who was not disclosing sex abuse.  She later said that she “sensed he was holding back.”  Rosamilia told her to send him to Mike Gillum, a psychologist who had a contract with Clinton County, and who conveniently occupied an office upstairs in the same building.

When Gillum came down to the CYS office to get Aaron Fisher, he got this first impression:

 “He had on a pair of raggedy jeans and some beat-up sneakers. His blond hair was scruffy and on the longer side, and he just looked disheveled, but it wasn’t the way he was dressed that stunned me.  He was so extremely anxious, and moving around a lot, pacing the floor, in a really tight area in the lobby outside Jessica’s office, but looking down at the floor.  His agitation was so high that he was wringing his hands.”

That was how Gillum described Aaron Fisher in Silent No More, a 2012 book written by Aaron Fisher, Fisher's mother, and Gillum, although the book is mostly written in Gillum's voice.

Fisher was obviously feeling pressured.  He later recalled in Silent No More:  “The truth is, I only agreed to go to his office because I wanted Jessica to stop asking me questions, and she said that Mike was the alternative, since I wasn’t answering her.”

Mike Gillum escorted Fisher into his office, where he began to reassure and disarm his young client, building the foundation for a trusting relationship that might enable future disclosure of sex abuse.  Gillum rescheduled his other clients and spent the day focusing entirely on Aaron Fisher. Gillum wrote up a report for Jessica Dershem based on this initial confidential counseling session.

Fisher never told his mother exactly what was supposed to have happened to him.  "Even now, these years later, he hasn't told me any details,” Daniels wrote in Silent No More.  “Knowing what little I know, I can only imagine.  And it makes me shudder."

At first, Fisher was equally uncommunicative with Mike Gillum, but Gillum immediately assumed that he really had been sexually abused.  "I really think I know what you must be going through even though you won't tell me," he said.  "You know...if someone touched you in your private parts, well, that's really embarrassing and hard to talk about because you're probably very scared.... It's my job and purpose to protect you and help you."

Gillum apparently believed that memories too painful to recall lay buried in the unconscious, causing mental illness of all kinds -- among them, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism.  His duty as a counselor was to entice clients whom he suspected had been subjected to abuse to reveal this abuse or to raise buried memories to the surface, where healing could begin. 

Fisher’s agitated behavior during his first meeting was a red flag and a certain indicator of child sexual abuse in Gillum’s mind.  “He looked at me straight in the eye, and you could see the pain in his eyes, you could see how uncomfortable he was, he was physically shaking at times, his voice was cracking.”

Later, in 2014, when I interviewed Mike Gillum in his office, he denied that Fisher had repressed memories, though Gillum admitted that he believed in the Freudian theory and had helped other adult clients recall previously “repressed” abuse memories. 

The Courage to Heal, the "bible" of those who believe in repressed memories of sexual abuse, was prominently displayed on his bookshelf.  In Fisher’s case, however, he said that it was more a matter of “peeling back the onion,” and that “Aaron did what a lot of people do during abuse.  He would dissociate with his body.  Aaron would freeze up and stare into space so that he wasn’t even there.  Many rape victims report the same thing.  They kind of pretend it’s not happening.”

I was impressed by Gillum’s sincerity during our interview.  He certainly had no intention of encouraging false allegations.  He truly wanted to help his clients, and he clearly had helped many of them who really had been abused.  Yet it was also clear that his presumptions and methods, especially in the case of Aaron Fisher and other alleged Sandusky victims, might lead to well-rehearsed but illusory memories. 

Like many other repressed memory therapists I have interviewed, Gillum emphasized that he took care not to lead his clients, even though that was precisely what he was doing.  “You have to be careful not to put words in their mouth,” he said.  “You try to take your time to get through the layers of information.”

Before he began seeing Mike Gillum, Fisher did not think of himself as a victim of sexual abuse.  In Silent No More, Gillum wrote, “It didn’t even hit him that he was a victim until he was fifteen.”

Fisher verified this, writing, “It really wasn’t until I was fifteen and started seeing Mike that I realized the horror." Although Fisher showed signs of mental distress that got more serious over the course of his therapy, Gillum did not question himself or his therapeutic approach.  Instead, he blamed it all on the supposed abuse and the uncertainty over whether the allegations were going to result in an arrest.

Gillum explained in Silent No More how he cued and prodded reluctant clients such as Aaron Fisher.  

"If I'm lucky, they just acknowledge spontaneously without too much prodding,"  he wrote. But otherwise, he asked many Yes or No questions. "It's like that old kids' game of Hide the Button, where the kids say yes when you get closer and no when you're just on a cold trail."  

This is classically bad technique for interviewing those suspected of being abused.  It is highly suggestive, and it is often clear from the inflection of voice or body language (leaning forward expectantly, etc.) what answer is appropriate.  And when No isn't acceptable, the interrogator just keeps asking until he or she gets a Yes. 

 "Although they give me information," Gillum said, "they don't feel held accountable because I'm guessing, but my guesses are educated." Gillum compared delving into the unconscious to “peeling back the layers of an onion,” and he knew what he would find at its rotten heart.

To Gillum, Aaron Fisher seemed immature, scared, and not very bright.  "Aaron was beginning to open up, not in words, but his body language relaxed some.  Though I knew he was fifteen, I couldn't get over how young he looked -- and his mental function and maturity appeared to be that of a twelve-year-old as well." 

Finally, Gillum got him to answer Yes to his more and more specific questions.  "He finally admitted that the man had touched his genitals and kissed him on the mouth, and he was painfully uncomfortable as he told me."

Gillum kept at it for three hours that first day with Aaron Fisher.  "The whole time I was with him, I wasn't really taking notes, even during that first session.  I wrote my notes up afterward.  I did write down some trigger words, though."  

After two hours, Gillum claimed that Fisher "told me that oral sex had occurred.  Even then he didn't tell me on his own; I asked him and he said it had.... 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."  In a later interview, however, Gillum said that it took him six months to get Fisher to say that he was subjected to oral sex.

Fisher confirmed that he said very little.  "As long as I told him that something happened, I didn't need to go into any detail.  I just needed to tell him if something sexual happened, like touching or oral sex, and he would ask me so all I had to do was say yes or no…. Mike just kept saying that Jerry was the exact profile of a predator.  When it finally sank in, I felt angry," Fisher wrote in Silent No More.

This was the beginning of the process of turning Jerry Sandusky into a monster in Aaron Fisher's mind, a process all too familiar to those who know about repressed memory therapy.  Indeed, one of the books about the process, by Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters, is called Making Monsters.

Three years later, Mike Gillum would join the board of an organization called “Let Go Let Peace Come In,” whose website is filled with repressed memory references and assumptions, and he would go on to counsel four other alleged Sandusky victims. But until then, Gillum spent the next three years reinforcing Fisher’s abuse narrative. 

 At that point, the theory of repression had been denounced as a fiction by memory scientists for nearly two decades.  Nevertheless, Michael Gillum was convinced that Fisher had buried memories that must be exhumed, like peeling back the layers of an onion, and he explained it all to him, though he apparently avoided using the term “repressed memories.”  Instead, he talked about “compartmentalizing” memories.

After this tutelage, Fisher asserted 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."

And for once Aaron Fisher had someone who believed him no matter what.  Once Fisher entered therapy with Gillum, nothing he said would be doubted or scrutinized for its historical truth.  The chair in Gillum’s office would become Fisher’s sanctuary.  For an adolescent who had a widespread reputation among classmates, neighbors, and teachers for deceit, this was a welcome change. 

 “Aaron would consistently lie and scam,” his history teacher Scott Baker told an investigator.  Another teacher, Ryan Veltri, said that “Aaron was untruthful, conniving, and would blame other kids to save himself.” Next-door neighbor Joshua Fravel claimed that Aaron Fisher was “a conniver and always made up stories.  He lied about everything.  He would say just about anything if it got him what he wanted.”

Even after Sandusky’s conviction for multiple counts of abuse, many people in his hometown continued to disbelieve Fisher.  “There are…people in my community [who] said I was a liar,” he complained in 2014.  “They never apologized and still say I’m a liar.”  Fisher said that the hardest thing for him was not the alleged abuse by Sandusky, but “the failure of almost everyone in his community to believe him,” as he told a reporter.

Gillum saw himself as Fisher's savior and protector.  "At the end of that day I promised Aaron that I would be with him throughout this whole ordeal.  I said I would see him through from beginning to end and meet with him every day if that's what it would take to make him whole again."  Indeed, as Fisher said, "I saw Mike every day for weeks, and I called his cell whenever I needed him.  I still see him every week, and he's still always at the other end of the phone."

Again, this is classically bad therapy, encouraging an over-dependence on the therapist.  I have written about this kind of therapy at length in my books about memory, most recently in Memory Warp, to be published in October, 2017. The therapist becomes the most important person in the client's life, and the client will go to great lengths to please the therapist.  The relationship develops into an unhealthy pattern where, in order to continue to elicit sympathy and attention, the client must produce more and worse memories of abuse.

From then on, Gillum was the main driver behind the abuse allegations.  When Aaron first spoke to the police, on Dec. 12, 2008, Gillum was upset because they wouldn't let him sit in on the interview.  At that point, he had been seeing Fisher every day for three weeks.  "I had prepared Aaron as best I could for this interview," he explained.  "Aaron was scared and didn't want to tell his story, but we had talked about it extensively and he knew this was something he had to do."

Gillum was absolutely certain that Jerry Sandusky was a sexual predator who had abused his client, and that it was his job to pressure Fisher into giving a detailed account of the abuse.  Gillum never talked to Sandusky, but that probably would not have made any difference. 

 It clearly never occurred to Gillum that he might be pressuring a troubled, vulnerable young teenager into making false allegations.  Jessica Dershem, the CYS caseworker who was present during this first police interview, told Gillum that during the interview, "Aaron was reticent.”  Still, he was now talking about fondling and kissing on the mouth, which he had not alleged initially.  Fisher denied that oral sex had occurred.  "They could have asked him the proper questions in the right way to ascertain the extent of the abuse," Gillum complained.

Fisher’s statements about what occurred between himself and Jerry Sandusky were to change dramatically from November of 2008 until June of 2011.  Indeed, his own conception of his experiences would be altered permanently as well.  When first interrogated, he told the authorities that Sandusky cracked his back.  His clothes were always on.  He denied that Sandusky ever went below his waistline, even though he was asked multiple times throughout the interview.  He told them that nothing else occurred.

By December 12, 2008, Fisher had been questioned three times by authorities (the school, child protective services, and the police), yet he told them that nothing had happened that could be considered criminal.  He told the state troopers that Sandusky had never touched his genitals, and when asked if oral sex occurred, he denied it.  But he was never going to be questioned by the authorities alone again.  Michael Gillum would be constantly by his side. 

Jerry Sandusky was first called in for questioning on Jan. 15, 2009.  As Gillum observed in these two paragraphs from Silent No More, Sandusky denied that he had sexually abused Aaron Fisher, though he admitted hugging and “horseplay:"

[Sandusky] admitted that he cracked Aaron's back; he hugged him and kissed his forehead in the way that you would a son or grandson.  He said there was horseplay, for sure...but the notion that anything sexual occurred was ridiculous.  He not only denied the fondling and kissing Aaron on the mouth, but he dismissed it categorically.  [He] assume[d] a sympathetic bent to Aaron, saying that the charges were all trumped up and that Aaron was angry at him, although he didn't know why, since he'd done so much for the boy.  

He was disheartened that Aaron was making these false claims since they had enjoyed such a great relationship.  Sandusky suggested that perhaps Aaron was angry and sullen because he, Sandusky, had started doing things and going places with other boys and maybe Aaron was jealous.  All in all, Sandusky acted as though he was totally mystified by the entire situation.... Basically, he just said that Aaron was a screwed-up kid, and rather than act angry the way other perpetrators do when faced with these kinds of allegations, he... seem[ed] almost sorry for Aaron and this fantasy he had evidently created.

According to Jessica Dershem’s notes from that meeting, Sandusky admitted that Fisher would sometimes lie on top of him and that he would rub and crack his back, with his hands underneath his shirt.  When asked whether the back rubs extended to Fisher’s buttocks, Sandusky said, “I can’t honestly answer if my hands were below his pants.”  If Sandusky were a child molester who had cleverly hidden his guilt for years, this kind of painful attempt at honesty seems remarkably inept. “He admitted to everything except the sexual contact,” Dershem recalled later.  “To me, that meant it was all true.” Her logic is difficult to follow.

Nonetheless, the wheels had been set in motion.  Gillum observed with satisfaction, "I was now permitted to sit in on all the interviews, though I still wasn't allowed to speak for Aaron."  He could, however, influence him.  "The more time we had, the better," Gillum thought.  "Maybe as time went by, Aaron would be more forthcoming.... They needed more details and information [and hopefully] Aaron would not only have revealed more details to me but would be more comfortable revealing them to someone else as well."

Seven months went by.  After daily and weekly therapy sessions, Fisher had finally answered again with a “yes” to a suggestive question from Gillum about oral sex.  As Fisher explained it, “As long as I told him that something happened, I didn’t need to go into any detail.  I just needed to tell him if something sexual happened, like touching or oral sex, and he would ask me so all I had to do was say yes or no.  He was real straightforward.  When I said yes, that oral sex happened, Mike just said that I didn’t have to talk about it more right now, but at some point, when I was ready, I could talk to him more.”

To review, then -- by the beginning of 2009, Aaron Fisher had made rather vague allegations that Jerry Sandusky had molested him, after his mother got the idea that the molestation must have happened and alerted the school principal, who took it from there.  Fisher's disclosures came in the form of answering "Yes" or "No" to leading questions.  He had supposedly told Gillum that he and Sandusky had engaged in oral sex, but then he denied it to the police.  Fisher was emotionally overwrought and was indeed the "screwed-up kid" that Sandusky perceived him to be.

When Trooper Cavanaugh submitted a report to the Clinton County District Attorney Michael Salisbury, he noted that most of the allegations took place in Centre County, so (with probable relief) he sent it over to Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira. But Madeira was married to the sister of one of Sandusky’s adopted children, so he recused himself, asking the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General to take the case.  There, it was assigned to Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach, who had considerable experience with child sex abuse cases, particularly during her time as an assistant district attorney in York County.

With Eshbach’s direction, on March 19, 2009, police officer Timothy Lear interviewed Aaron for another hour with Gillum by his side. "He was nodding his head yes or no as Lear asked him pointed questions about the nature of the sexual abuse,” Gillum wrote.  “We needed verbal answers for the record, and it was hard to keep asking him to state his answers out loud.  Aaron gave one- or two-word answers about where he was touched and what happened to him, and when it got to the more graphic details of oral sex, Aaron was still reluctant to state any details.  He just kept nodding to indicate that abuse -- and particularly, that oral sex -- had happened."

So apparently Fisher was now at least nodding affirmatively that oral sex had occurred. Still, Gillum was frustrated at "this extremely fragile fifteen-year-old boy whom I can barely get to talk to me about the details of the sexual abuse."  He assumed that Fisher was reticent because "he's not only traumatized but also scared to death that Sandusky is going to kill him, even by going so far as to hire a hit man."

This assumption by Gillum, which he transmitted to Fisher, is part of the process of the demonization of Jerry Sandusky, turning him into a Monster, and is quite similar to the paranoia that therapists purveyed to clients about mythic satanic ritual abuse cults that were supposedly out to kill their clients.

Nonetheless, something in Aaron Fisher still rebelled against the effort to incriminate his former friend.  Mike Gillum noted that Fisher was stunned when he realized that the stories he had told in therapy might harm Sandusky.  When Officer Lear boasted to Fisher that he “would put the cuffs on anybody,” Fisher’s “eyes got real wide and he became very quiet.”  He answered Officer Lear mostly by nods.  At last they prompted Fisher to give one- or two-word answers.  “He looked down at the floor as if he was ashamed.”

Of course, his shame could have derived from revealing oral sex acts, but it could also have derived from his uncertainty about whether he was telling the truth.  Gillum reported that Fisher “asked me very detailed questions about if Sandusky went to prison, how long he would be there.  He worried that something bad would happen to Sandusky and said that all he wanted was to get away from him.  He wasn’t looking to punish him.”

The prosecutor, Jonelle Eshbach, meanwhile was pressuring Gillum to get Fisher to come up with details.  "She hoped he would become more comfortable and discuss in greater depth the details that were relevant to the case.  She made it very clear that the standard of evidence required by the attorney general's office before they could even begin to prosecute the crimes inflicted on Aaron had to be far more comprehensive."  

 Gillum reassured her that Fisher was likely to comply.  "With most child victims of sexual abuse, their information comes in layers." This is in fact usually true of false allegations, not real ones.  A growing and malleable sex abuse narrative, influenced by therapy, is often a warning sign that false memories are being developed.

The other thing that repressed memory therapy often does is to make subjects worse rather than better.  "Once I started therapy with Mike and began to tell him everything," Fisher said, "the nightmares actually got a lot worse.... They were nightmares about what happened to me all those times Jerry was doing things to me and making me do things to him."

 Instead, it is possible that these nightmares were fantasies induced by therapy and then the nightmares themselves were taken as "proof" that the abuse had taken place.  This is exactly what many repressed memory therapists did with clients -- warning them that they would have nightmares about abuse that would then prove that the abuse occurred, thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 "I went from nightmares about Jerry abusing me to nightmares about Jerry having people come after me and kill me and my family and take things from me," Fisher wrote in Silent No More. "They were so graphic in detail that even after I woke up I could recite everything that happened and everything that was said.... Those nightmares were my reality."

Aaron Fisher was becoming a much more disturbed young man.  The counseling process, in which he vividly imagined how Jerry Sandusky might have abused him, was blurring his already weak boundaries between reality and fantasy.   Nightmares became more frequent and more vivid after therapy began.  He became suicidal. He was hospitalized three times for anxiety or “conversion disorder” under Gillum’s care, which Gillum described as “deep psychic pain from deep in your unconscious.”

Mike Gillum thought that Fisher’s fears of being killed by a hit man hired by Jerry Sandusky were appropriate, and he validated them.  

“In no way at all did I think he was paranoid,” Gillum recalled.  “I did not and would not discount or dismiss Aaron’s fears; I knew he was entitled to have them.” Fisher was generally so fearful that he made a report to his high school in October 2010 that a man from Second Mile wearing a dark suit and worn pants had approached him.  

Asked about this report during the trial he said he had been “startled and confused,” and that throughout that entire school year “I did nothing but watch the entrances of the school to make sure somebody wasn’t going to come into the school and talk to me and throw me into an anxiety attack.”

An investigation indicated that no such mysterious man had approached him.  In the same month, Fisher drove into a tree, fracturing his skull.  His mother wondered whether the evil Jerry Sandusky had somehow sabotaged the car.  Fisher later recounted how he unsuccessfully attempted suicide, slicing his forearms with a razor and trying to hang himself in his closet.

Despite Fisher falling apart, the daily therapy began to pay off in other ways.  "Eventually," said Gillum, "Aaron told me in no uncertain words that it was after that second summer at camp, when he was twelve, that the intensity of the sexual acts escalated to oral sex, which Aaron was forced to perform as well as receive."

Gillum was teaching Fisher that he had dissociated during his theoretical abuse, which was one of the reasons he hadn’t remembered it.  “With Sandusky’s help,” Gillum wrote, “Aaron managed to disassociate himself from the grim reality of abuse, as victims do.” Fisher parroted the same jargon about dissociation that Gillum had taught him:  “I spaced.  I took myself out of my body and away from him and out of that basement room.” This stereotypical language could have been taken verbatim from many classic repressed memory accounts.

After Timothy Lear was suspended from the force for assaulting his ex-girl friend, Trooper Scott Rossman became the new interrogator, asking Fisher things such as, "Did he ever try to put his dick in your butt?  I mean his penis in your anus?"

 Rossman also began to search for other potential victims, with encouragement from Gillum, who was sure there must be others.  "He wanted details about my school and when Jerry was there and what were the names of other kids and where did they live and what did they look like," Fisher said.  

"Later I found out that Trooper Rossman and some agents in the attorney general's office went out scouring neighborhoods, just like cops do in the movies.  They worked a fifty-mile perimeter."  Eventually, the police would also begin to question other Second Mile children, particularly those named in Sandusky's 2000 book, Touched.

Two grand juries investigated charges of child abuse against Jerry Sandusky, at which Aaron Fisher was the star witness.  Grand juries are little-understood affairs.  They resemble trials in that they have jurors (23 of them in Pennsylvania, hence the name “grand jury,” versus the 12 jurors in a normal trial) who listen to sworn testimony.

  But unlike regular trials, grand juries are held in secret, for the purpose of determining whether there is enough evidence to pursue a criminal indictment.  In a grand jury, the prosecutor presents a case, but there is no defense lawyer present, and no cross-examination is allowed.  Nor are transcripts ever made public. 

 Grand juries meet for three or four days per month and can last up to two years.  Each panel of jurors can hear evidence in several different cases.  In Sandusky’s case, the 30th Pennsylvania grand jury met to consider the allegations from June 2009 until early 2011.  Then the 33rd Pennsylvania grand jury, with a different jury pool, took it up again in March 2011.

At his first grand jury interrogation, which convened in June 2009, "Mike prepped me and told me what to expect," Fisher recalled.  "Mike had permission to sit in the courtroom with me."  But when asked about the alleged molestation, Fisher just started to cry.  He blurted out “No!” when Jonelle Eshbach, the Assistant Attorney General, asked whether oral sex had occurred.  He broke down weeping.  Due to his disturbed emotional state, a recess was called so that Fisher could receive medication and a pep talk from Gillum.   

After the break, Fisher performed more satisfactorily, providing Eshbach with the anticipated answer of “Yes,” but continuing to weep.  It is certainly possible that Fisher was so emotional and conflicted that he initially denied that abuse had occurred because he actually knew, despite all the therapy, that abuse had not occurred.

After the first grand jury session, "Aaron continued to come in for therapy at least once a week...and we held several phone calls in between sessions,” Gilllum recalled.  “I had an open arrangement with Aaron and Dawn to the effect that if either of them needed me for whatever reason, they could call at any time -- day or night."

The grand jury refused to indict Sandusky.  "The first grand jury said that Aaron had trouble responding clearly and didn't elaborate as much as he could have or should have.... Jonelle would say something like, 'He then would touch you in a sexual way,' and Aaron would answer yes or no.  In the second [session of the] grand jury, the jurors wanted Aaron to narrate the story in his own words.  They wanted all the gory details."

Gillum was frustrated, suggesting that he could testify instead of Aaron under the "Angel Act," also known as the "Tender Years Exception to the hearsay rule."  In that case, "I could have testified as though I was the child if I deemed that the child was too fragile and the court concurred."  Instead, "Jonelle and I gave him [Aaron] some more coaching and emphasized that he had to state exactly what happened.  Jonelle explained that she didn't want anyone on the jury to say that she had been leading the witness."

Of course, leading the witness is exactly what they were already doing with the "coaching" sessions, with the months of therapy, with the assumption and insistence that he had been abused, and with Eshbach’s leading questions.  By the time he testified again to the grand jury, reconvened on Nov. 16, 2009, Aaron Fisher’s testimony and memory had been irrevocably contaminated. 

 "Once Aaron took the stand, Jonelle... pushed him a lot harder that second time."  To Fisher’s credit, he managed through tears to be more of his own advocate and narrator, until he literally collapsed." He began to perspire, went pale and sank to the floor.  Then he vomited.

"The second grand jury [actually the same pool of jurors in the 30th Pennsylvania grand jury, meeting again] still did not feel that Aaron's testimony was strong enough to make a case for an arrest."  Time dragged on.  Fisher continued therapy and continued to get worse, becoming severely depressed and experiencing panic attacks and excruciating abdominal pain by August 2010.  He also began to talk about suicide. "He was truly beginning to come apart,” Gillum observed.

All of this should be familiar to those who have studied the impact of repressed memory therapy.  As one woman told Bass and Davis in The Courage to Heal, “Breaking through my own denial, and trying to fit the new reality into the shattered framework of the old, was enough to catapult me into total crisis.  I felt my whole foundation had been stolen from me.  If this could have happened and I could have forgotten it, then every assumption I had about life and my place in it was thrown up for question.”  Another revealed, “I just lost it completely. I wasn't eating. I wasn't sleeping…. I had terrible nightmares about my father. I was having all kinds of fantasies ….  Physically, I was a mess.  I had crabs.  I hadn't bathed in a month.  I was afraid of the shower.”

Similarly, in her book Repressed Memories, Renee Fredrickson told the story of her client, Carolyn.  “Her anger and grief were enormous.  For months she suffered emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  She had crying jags, eating binges, suicidal feelings, and bouts of depression.” 

 Fred­rickson unquestioningly assumed that all of these were symptoms of abuse.  “I never felt like my problems were connected to my past,” Carolyn told her.  “To be honest, they still don't seem related.”  Another patient exclaimed during a session:  “But I feel like I'm just making this up!”  Fredrickson ignored her concern.  “I urged her to continue, explaining that truth or fantasy is not of concern at the beginning of memory retrieval work.” Thus, it was common for many who underwent repressed memory therapy to fall apart in the same way that Aaron Fisher did.  The repressed memory therapists always interpreted these symptoms as the result of the abuse, when in fact they were caused by the therapy itself.

On April 11, 2011, a new Grand Jury met to hear Aaron Fisher’s testimony.  This time, as Fisher recalled in his book, "the new grand jury allowed me to read my testimony, since I had given it twice before.”  According to Mike Gillum, Fisher just read aloud his previous testimony, even though it had been deemed to be too vague and uncertain, one-word answers in response to leading questions.  Gillum denied that he helped Fisher write the testimony that he read aloud.

At this point, "the nightmares were picking up speed again, but this time I was also sleep walking," Fisher wrote in Silent No More.  He would yell, "Get away!" and "Leave me alone!"  By this time, as he himself observed, "My monster was real."  Jerry Sandusky's transformation into a Monster was complete.

Near the end of August 2011, however, Aaron Fisher got cold feet.  During a meeting with Gillum, the prosecutors, and the police, Fisher said, "I'm out.  That's it.  I'm not going to be your witness anymore."  Gillum interpreted this as Fisher expressing frustration that Sandusky had not yet been arrested, which may have been the case, but it also could have been Fisher’s frustration at having been pushed and pushed to create stories that he knew deep down were not true.  Even Gillum seemed to recognize this on some level.  "If not for my pushing him along, he [Aaron] might have backed out a long time before this, and to this day I still question myself about how much I pushed him," he wrote.

But Gillum did convince Fisher to testify, and on Nov. 5, 2011, Jerry Sandusky was arrested.  "I never thought the arrest would happen," Fisher said, "and when it did, something didn't feel right about it." The arrest came just before Fisher's eighteenth birthday.  At this point, he had been under Gillum's influence for three years.

By this time, the police had succeeded in locating five other Second Mile boys who were willing to say that Sandusky had molested them, along with the anonymous "boy in the shower" of the McQueary incident (they did not know that this boy was Allan Myers, who came forward soon thereafter to defend Sandusky), and a hypothetical hearsay victim based on testimony of a Penn State janitor (who said another janitor, Jim Calhoun, who was now suffering from dementia, had witnessed the abuse).  By the time of the trial, they had come up with two more alleged victims.

When Aaron Fisher testified during the 2012 trial, the inconsistencies of his allegations were exposed.  He couldn’t remember what he had said about the abuse and couldn’t keep it straight.  “I don’t remember dates of when I told people anything.  All I know is that it happened to me.  I honest – I don’t even want to be here.”

That could be explained easily if he had recovered memories that were unconnected to reality.  If a witness’s testimony is not based on real events, naturally he doesn’t have anything to connect it to.  For example, Fisher offered four guesses about when oral sex occurred. 

 One:  It stopped a month before or after his birthday on November 9, 2007. Two:  It started in the summer of 2007 and continued until September of 2008.  Three:  It started November of 2007 and continued until the summer of 2008.  Four:  It only started during 2008, going into 2009 [impossible, since he made his allegation in the fall of 2008].

Indeed, Fisher’s testimony over the course of the investigation was erratic.  In June of 2009, Fisher told Scott Rossman that he had performed oral sex on Sandusky many times, and that Sandusky had ejaculated, keeping his eyes closed.  A week later he said it only happened once.  Yet in November 2009 he said he had never performed oral sex on Sandusky.

When reminded of his previous testimony, he complied by then saying it did happen.  During the trial, when he was confronted with the fact that his testimony had changed frequently and asked why that was, Fisher told the jury that he had “white lied” to save himself embarrassment, because he was scared, because he was under stress and didn’t know what to do.

In his testimony, Fisher also said that after he began to stay overnight at the Sandusky household, “I acted out.  I started wetting the bed.  I got into fights with people.” But in fact, according to one of Fisher’s childhood friends and his father, Fisher had wet the bed repeatedly on sleepovers before he ever met Sandusky.

But none of these issues -- Fisher’s bed-wetting, his confusion regarding dates or places, or his changing story about oral sex – provided sufficient reason to disbelieve his story.  A reporter attending the trial described Fisher’s testimony:  “The sobs from the witness stand were loud and prolonged, the cracking voice of Victim No. 1 in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual molestation trial gasping for breath as he detailed repeated acts of oral sex with the former Penn State defensive coordinator.” 

 The testimony had a profound effect on the audience, including the jury.  “The sighs and sniffs echoed around a rapt Centre County Courtroom as jurors looked on, a couple noticeably disturbed.  A few grimaced at the retelling and shook their heads.”  The reporter’s dramatic story continued:

The witness then breathed heavily. He followed with a deep sniff of his nose, then hung his head and openly wept. "He…" More sobs. "He put…" There was another prolonged sigh.  An attempt at a breath.  A loud cry.  "He put his mouth on my privates," the witness said through a broken voice, seemingly just trying to spit it out. "I spaced. I didn't know what to do with all the thoughts running through my head. I just blacked out. I didn't want it to happen. I was froze."

In fact, in the trial transcript at that point, when Fisher talked about oral sex, he used tell-tale languge to indicate that these were recovered memories.  Gillum had probably explained that Fisher couldn’t really recall the oral sex clearly because he “spaced,” he “blacked out,” he was “frozen.”  Perhaps Gillum had explained that Fisher had dissociated, blanking it all from his memory.  Fisher continued:  “He blew on my stomach, and then it, it just happened.  I don’t – don’t even know.”  Indeed, it is possible that he truly didn’t know.

Fisher said that he had stayed overnight in the Sandusky household about 100 times between 2005 and 2008.  His mother “kind of let me do my own thing.”  In fact, “in some ways she encouraged it.”

He said that he had been repeatedly molested in the basement, yet he willingly continued to return for additional rounds of abuse for three years.  The only explanation he gave for not confiding in his mother was that he was afraid she might not believe him and that he was embarrassed and scared.  He frequently used the line, “I couldn’t.”  During his alleged abuse, he couldn’t move.  He was “froze.”  He couldn’t talk.  Understandably, the jury accepted this highly emotional testimony and found Jerry Sandusky guilty of all the charges concerning Aaron Fisher.

Therapist Mike Gillum did not testify. 


  1. This is clear writing, reminiscent of the best journalist at New Yorker. I think I already understood the main point, Aaron isn't such a bad writer himself and was explaining this in his own words throughout his book in an eloquent and courageous way, I think.

    1. You are delusional. Gillum wrote the book. Quack, fraud, manipulator, pick the adjective. My choice is criminal. Aaron was hooked on pornography, was in a relationship with female, and liked to masterbate on overnight stays at his best friend's house. But when he nearly killed his friend in a car wreck, he hung that friend out to dry. Dawn had JS babysit for her kids so she could go out drinking. Really logical thing to do when you think abuse is going on.

  2. Dawn is a pathetic excuse for a human being.

  3. Mike Gillum may have said that he doesn't practice repressed memory therapy in his recent testimony at Sandusky's PCRA evidentiary hearing, but Mark Pendergrast demonstrates from his interview with Gillum, and excerpts from Fisher and Gillum's book "Silent No More" that is precisely what he did. If Fisher was only able to make his CSA accusations after repressed memory therapy, then his testimony is totally unreliable.

  4. Me again. The book seems to have sections written by Gillum, sections by Dawn and sections by Aaron himself. It is believable that Aaron actually said the things attributed to him. I'm not sure who organized the book, a woman I think, but the point is it does walk a thin line of truthfulness agreed by all parties.

    A similar thing is J. Eshbach's presentment. It too walks a thin line. It was uncompromising in forcing McQueary to make a choice, either he saw something or he did not; facts matter, not innuendo.

    The presentment is written with no attempt to reconcile contradictory testimony. I think that a lot of people being painted as villains were really fair, including McGettigan, Andreozzi, and others.

    Pendergrast's description of the jury's experience sort of may explain what happened. I don't see any reason to degrade Aaron's character, he seems to really clearly and honestly say what he thinks, obviously he can't incriminate himself for perjury but short of doing that he actually cooperates with Ziegler's attempt to show how money and pressure influenced him. Aaron wants to get JS off the hook, but the lynch mob mentality makes it tough.

    1. Eshbach's presentment essentially libeled her own witnesses (McQueary and Paterno) when she wrote that McQueary witnessed "anal intercourse" and told Paterno that. McQueary testified later he never used any graphic sexual terms like that to anyone in 2001. McQueary's statements and testimony are contradictory. If he was a defense witness, the prosecution probably would have charged him with perjury.

      He gave several statements and testified before the grand jury and never mentioned a locker door slam or third glance to see Sandusky and the boy separated. After Sandusky's arrest, the press attacked him for leaving the boy alone in Sandusky's grasp, and he suddenly "remembered" the locker door slam and seeing them separated before he left.

      I don't see how Aaron can "get JS off the hook" without admitting that he was not abused. I do not have a high opinion of Aaron after seeing the selfie of him lying shirtless on a bed covered with paper money.

  5. Gillum writing a book with a patient seemed very unprofessional and a blatant conflict of interest. No sexual abuse - no book. No wonder he lost his job over it.

    1. More therapy means more billable hours. It seems that Charlatans like Gillum have every reason to keep their clients in Limbo. It took them three years to create a separate reality with Aaron kicking and screaming all the way. The kid just wanted to get away and mess around with his girlfriend. Three years of brainwashing. Wow!

  6. At least Aaron was a real person, unlike V8. The OAG used the janitor hoax to paint a vivid picture of a little boy pinned against a wall. Although the stories (two different ones) had more gaping holes than the surface of Yucca Flats, the media bought into it and even embellished it. Bill Plaschke of the LA Times used it as a sword, in a libelous July 1912 article, to impale Joe Paterno. The fear of Paterno caused everyone to keep silent until Frank Fina magically unlocked their mouths. Oh, the culture of football!

    Being that this strategem by the OAG was the instrument used to drag Paterno and the football program into the fiasco as well as poison the jury pool, it is rather strange that it has never been subject to rigorous analysis. Why did only one janitor show up at trial while the other two disappeared? Why did Cleland allow highly prejudicial un-collaborated hearsay...a jurisprudence mortal sin? Was he that extreemly biased, or was he in on the hoax? What was Frank Fina holding over the janitors that suborned their perjury? Would the NCAA have even gotten into this if not for this hoax and the fear of the culture of football expressed by the janitor? Who in the OAG scripted the janitors' story?

    1. I agree that Judge Cleland certainly seemed to be on the prosecution's side. The way he moved the case along at breakneck speed favored the prosecution. He ignored defense complaints that they were not ready. He seemed to cut off the defense more so than he did the prosecution.

      With his post-trial gag order the public doesn't know what lines of questioning he wouldn't allow. It never came up that Mike McQueary was a gambling addict or that he told his players he was a victim of child sexual abuse. The latter seemed to very relevant.

  7. All Pendergast has demonstrated is his unwavering support for people convicted of sexual abusing minors.

    He's simply making an argument for RMT having been used with conjecture. Everything he points out has a reasonable explanation that doesn't include RMT.

    I'm sure Ralph Underwager would be proud.

  8. If you think what Gillum and the prosecutors [And Aaron's mother] did to Aaron Fisher was reasonable, I don't know what to say other than to question your sanity.

    You usually don't have to manufacture evidence to indict a pedophile.

    1. Have you ever considered that maybe Ziegler and Pendergast are wrong about their assertions?

      Ziegler didn't start advocating for Jerry's innocence until after he became a pariah for making the rounds with his Sandusky interview. Watch his Piers Morgan interview, he says Jerry's a pedo. He became an advocate for Jerry when the Paternos distanced themselves from him.

      We're talking about guy that stalks victims online and in real life. As a matter of fact he got someone to solicit a "penis picture" from Mike Mcqueary as proof of.....Jerry's innocence? Ziegler literally plays middle school internet games and calls it journalism.

      Pendergast has ties to the FMSF. Do a little research on who started it and then ask yourself why someone concerned with RMT would involve himself in a case where it doesn't play a crucial role. He's just trying to shoehorn it in here, and Sandusky's documented behavior raises red flags.

      In any case you guys show a staggering amount of ignorance with your character attacks on AF and his mother. A kid with a penchant for telling wild stories to impress people, with a single mother more focused on herself than her son, is the perfect victim for a predator like Sandusky. Banging that drum isn't exactly helping your cause on any front.

      Why don't you interview Sandusky and press him on the things that don't make sense? Ziegler is too self obsessed to throw Sandusky off.

  9. In the thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands of news articles written about the Sandusky case, all, or nearly all, have the underlying premise of Jerry's guilt. This massive tide of misinformation and propaganda is turned aside brilliantly by Mark Pendergrast in the above excerpt from his new book. Anyone who has read Loftus's 'the myth of repressed memory' doesn't have trouble putting two and two together. We should all celebrate this victory of REASON over the emotionally based thinking that the public is so easily swept into. Bravo, Mark Pendergrast. Besides John Ziegler, you are a true hero. Innocent Jerry Sandusky is still oppressed and in prison, but at least the first real push back to a tsunami of misinformation has begun.


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