Plug: If you are in any way following the Jerry Sandusky child rape case and not following Sara Ganim’s exemplary coverage in Harrisburg, PA’s, “The Patriot-News,” now’s the time to mend your ways.
PROSECUTION witness Mike McQueary keeps hitting the fan, or so it would seem. His statement about catching alleged pedophile and former football coach Jerry Sandusky in a Penn State shower with a 9 or 10 year old boy? It is now a theme with variations. Most critically, the story’s details keep shifting in troubling ways. Notes Sara Ganim, the reporter who first broke the Sandusky story:
- His (McQueary’s) grand jury testimony says he heard slapping noises and saw a boy being sodomized by Sandusky.
- His hand-written statement to police says, “I did not see insertion. I am certain that sexual acts/the young boy being sodomized was occurring.” He says the whole incident lasted about a minute.
- In an email he sent to friends following the firing of Joe Paterno, he says “I made sure it stopped,” something not mentioned in the grand jury testimony or police statement.
- And now [recent] testimony describes a new scenario entirely.
The new version doesn’t come from McQueary himself, but a family friend who also testified before the Sandusky Grand Jury. Dr. Jonathan Dranov, a physician friend of McQueary’s father, says he was there when McQueary the Younger first related what he’d seen in the Penn State locker room. Here’s the Doc’s version, quoted in Sara Ganim’s story:
McQueary heard “sex sounds” and the shower running, and a young boy stuck his head around the corner of the shower stall, peering at McQueary as an adult arm reached around his waist and pulled him back out of view.
Seconds later, Sandusky left the shower in a towel.
This version shifts the ground quite a bit. If true, McQueary has gone from being a direct witness to a child rape, to someone who heard and saw things that made him think he had.
I cannot type that sentence without thinking of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, the groundbreaking research psychologist whose memory research first codified the “false memory syndrome.” I had the honor of hearing Dr. Loftus speak in Seattle at a Mystery Writers of America function in the early days of “Butcher, Baker.” What she said then is all the more relevant today, as memory research advances and tells us more about the inner workings of the brain. Loftus’ key finding, drawn here from a Nature article, is that memories, by their very nature, are changeable.
“…Memories can become scrambled, sometimes in the process of attempting to retrieve something. You might relate a story to a friend but unwittingly include some mistaken details. Later, as you attempt to recall the episode, you might come across your memory of the scrambled recall attempt instead of your original memory.
Memory is malleable. It is not, as is commonly thought, like a museum piece sitting in a display case. “Memory is,” as the Uruguayan novelist Eduardo Galeano once said, “born every day, springing from the past, and set against it.”
I am not much troubled by the initial variation in McQueary’s account, where he tells police that he witnessed sodomy, but is less certain that he saw penetration. I mean, I’m guessing he’d have to get pretty close to witness penetration. But Dranov’s account seemingly punts those variations out the window. I say “seemingly” because the question at hand is: whose memory is scrambled or, rather, the most scrambled? Dr. Dranov’s or Mike McQueary’s?
I answer with another question. Who benefits from the various versions of the incident now circulating? Because, you know, in legal cases it’s often less about seeking the truth than shifting the blame.
- Clearly, Mike McQueary does not benefit from the critical variations in his shower account. In fact, it may serve to reduce his credibility.
- Former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and ex-Vice President Gary Schulz do stand to benefit. They face charges of perjury and failure to report a crime. Dr. Dranov’s account potentially takes them off the hook.
- Jerry Sandusky may also see potential benefit if Dranov’s account holds. McQueary is a key witness and Sandusky’s attorney will no doubt call him the linchpin of the prosecution case. He’ll attack the inconsistencies, attempting to sow the seeds of reasonable doubt. He’s up against an MD, for chrissakes. Who are you going to believe?
I am not implying that Dr. Dranov is lying to protect several very important Penn State personalities. During the grand jury presentment, I presume he had no idea what was about to come down. But it’s not a stretch to suggest that his instincts all the way back in 2002 were to protect Penn State’s athletic program. Nor is it a stretch to suggest that his memory would evolve in that direction by 2010. Let’s look at what else he told the grand jury:
Dranov told grand jurors that he asked McQueary three times if he saw anything sexual, and three times McQueary said no, [according to the source.]
Was Dr. Dranov asking Mike McQueary? Or telling him, albeit “subtly”? Was (is) Dranov trying to lead the witness, even inadvertently, somewhere out to “bad-memory-land”? It will be interesting to hear what, if anything, Mike McQueary’s father has to say. Oh yeah, it gets complicated…