Despite his conviction of 45 counts of sexual abuse, Jerry Sandusky still claims he is an innocent man. After an appeal of his conviction was denied by the Pennsylvania Superior Court last month, Sandusky's attorneys have now taken his appeal to the state's court of last resort -- the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
However, as his attorneys were filing the appeal with the state's highest court, a university sex abuse scandal some 1,250 miles away was reaching a very different outcome.
In Norman, Oklahoma, a former University of Oklahoma professor was acquitted of multiple counts of sexual abuse of children. Dwain Pellebon, 56, was found not guilty of nine felony counts including three counts of child sexual abuse and six counts of lewd or indecent acts or proposals to a child under 16. Pellebon, who maintained his innocence throughout two years of accusations and charges, said he felt vindicated by the verdict.
While the Sandusky and Pellebon cases are separated by four states, more than a thousand miles, and at least eight alleged victims, the cases bear striking similarities.
Both men were university employees when they were accused of molesting children: Sandusky, a former football coach who had assisted the legendary Joe Paterno; Pellebon, a professor in OU's sociology department.
Both Sandusky and Pellebon were accused of luring children and grooming them for sexual abuse through the guise of caring for their alleged victims. Sandusky was convicted of abusing young boys who were a part of his Second Mile charity program; Pellebon was under contract with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, training social workers to detect and report child abuse.
Both men, in their attempts to clear up any "misunderstanding" about the allegations, made the critical mistake of talking about their cases -- which any criminal lawyer will tell you is the number one way to royally screw your defense. Both Sandusky and Pellebon said things that, while intended to support their innocence, came off as creepy at best, and damning at worst.
When asked by Bob Costas if he was sexually attracted to children, Jerry Sandusky replied, "I enjoy young people. I love to be around them, but no, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys." On its own, that statement could be innocent enough, but when coupled with statements like, "I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact," and "I shouldn't have showered with those kids," Sandusky's interview gave everyone across America the shivers, and it did nothing to cast him in a positive light.
Dwain Pellebon similarly gave statements that likely made his defense attorneys lose more than a few hours of sleep. Pellebon's investigation began after a 13-year-old girl told authorities that she saw the man fondle another girl at a sleepover at the professor's house. As other alleged victims came forward with tales of inappropriate touching, Pellebon tried to defend himself in much the same way Sandusky did, admitting to police that he liked to "hug, kiss, cuddle, and stroke young girls" that he is close to, but that such contact is affectionate and not sexual. He also allegedly admitted to viewing child pornography once, and said that while one of his accusers was once naked in his presence, it was only so he could apply eczema cream to her body, including her chest, back, and buttocks.
So, you're probably asking yourself, "Why, when both men made such seemingly incriminating statements, is Sandusky forced to attempt an appeal while Pellebon was able to beat his ordeal?"
Perhaps it is because some statements, creepy though they may seem in the context of a sex abuse investigation, are simply true. Perhaps it is because a great defense team will fight against what seems to be in order to reveal what actually is.
One of Pellebon's chief accusers was a mentally disabled girl. The girl's own mother admitted that the teen refused to apply her own eczema cream even today at age 17. She testified that the girl had undergone psychiatric counseling after claiming to see ghosts and demons and throwing a Bible at a window. Experts testified that the accuser's testimony may have been the result of confabulation, or filling in memory gaps with false information in an attempt to please those questioning her.
The mother of another alleged victim said that Pellebon was accused of stroking her daughter's hair. As a witness for the prosecution, she said, "If somebody would stroke your hair... I don't know if that's a big deal."
While the defense team in the Sandusky case was faced with accusers and witnesses who testified to repeated rape, the defense team in the Pellebon case was faced with accusers and witnesses who mostly claimed that the man made them uncomfortable because he was "too affectionate."
But as Pellebon's lawyer asserted, "We live in a time when any child can make any accusation against any person and be believed," even though the accuser's mother tried to tell detectives that her daughter was prone to making up stories. And although many families were made uncomfortable by a degree of affection that lay outside social norms, Dwain Pellebon's attorney reminds us, "Creepy is not a crime."