A just, but lacking, sentence

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- The crimes included 15 years of unspeakable depravity involving at least 10 young boys, but the resolution was over in an 80-minute court hearing Tuesday that was both surreal and banal.

Jerry Sandusky and his lawyers opened his sentencing by agreeing with a Pennsylvania agency's determination that he was a "violent sexual predator."

As he listened to three of his victims describe the destruction of their lives and their families, Sandusky appeared to smirk.

When it was his turn to speak, Sandusky stood before the judge and a packed courtroom and proclaimed his innocence. Rambling in and out of reality, he told the world with some level of pride that one of his fellow inmates in the county jail was a graduate of Second Mile, the charity Sandusky founded. At one point, he actually said, "I've been kissed by dogs, and I've been bit by dogs." He also wanted us to know of his admiration for the movie "Seabiscuit."

Judge John Cleland managed to maintain a straight face throughout Sandusky's bizarre statement and quickly turned to the legally required ritual of imposing a sentence. In the homely prose of the courthouse, Cleland went through each of the 45 counts on which the jury convicted Sandusky.

For each charge, the judge listed the crime and the sentence. "For Count 3," he said in a typical example, "corruption of a minor, no less than six months nor more than 12 months."

As he stated each crime and the sentence, it became more and more difficult to envision the monstrous behavior that had destroyed lives and careers. It all came down to "no less than 30 years and more than 60 years" of incarceration. Cleland made it clear that his goal was to make sure that Sandusky, 68, would spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The judge was careful, and he was scrupulous in his implementation of the law of Pennsylvania that applies to Sandusky's crimes. He avoided all histrionics, noting that he could have imposed "centuries of incarceration" but chose not to. He covered every detail, including the assessment of $1,706.81 against Sandusky for "restitution" under an obscure Pennsylvania law that requires accused individuals to pay certain costs of any investigation into their activities.

How about some outrage? Wouldn't it have been better if the judge had said something like 199 years, a better matchup of crime and punishment? The 30-year term is clearly intended to result in Sandusky dying in the penitentiary, but you cannot help but wonder 10 or 15 years from now, when Sandusky is 78 or 83 years old, will he somehow qualify for some leniency, some compassion?

Not once during the hearing was there a mention of the extraordinary collateral damage caused by Sandusky's depravity. The names of former football coach Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, the disgraced former president of Penn State, were not heard. No mention of Penn State administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, who face trial in January on charges of perjury for their roles in the enabling and concealment of Sandusky's actions. No mention of the nearly total destruction of a storied football program and the elimination of years of victories.

Cleland said he based his sentence on the factors that good judges are supposed to consider. The sentence is supposed to "protect the public." It is supposed to "reflect the gravity of the crime." It is supposed to provide for the "rehabilitative needs" of the convicted criminal. And it is supposed to consider the "effects of the crime on the community."

"We do not consider vengeance, and we do not consider retaliation," he added.

Cleland's sentencing calculus would work well in garden variety cases. But there is nothing garden variety about the crimes of Jerry Sandusky. How about a little vengeance? How about some retaliation? Is there anyone who would object? Would a higher court criticize "centuries of incarceration" for Sandusky?

Sandusky has never offered a specific reply to any of the charges from any of his victims. He offered a frightening answer last year when Bob Costas asked him if he "was sexually attracted to boys." Sandusky did not testify at his trial. On the eve of his sentencing, he somehow delivered a preview of his bizarre courtroom statement to a Penn State radio station. And now he wants to pursue an appeal.

Sandusky and his lawyers claim that the rapid pace of the investigation and the trial prevented them from preparing a defense. There is little doubt that things did happen fast after the first report of the charges. But as lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan said on Tuesday, "There is not enough time in the world to prove the lies" that Sandusky was offering.

Thirty years? Even with all of the surreal and banal circumstances of the sentencing hearing, the 30-year term may be the most surreal and banal of them all.