(Reuters) - Lawyers for Jerry Sandusky sought a mistrial before his conviction for child sex abuse on the grounds that prosecutors showed jurors an inaccurate version of a bombshell NBC News interview with the former football coach, and the mistake may now form part of the basis for an appeal.
In response to a subpoena, NBC News turned over three versions of Bob Costas’ NBC News interview with Sandusky, which aired last November on different NBC shows.
One of those versions, which was broadcast on the ‘Today’ show, contained an erroneous repetition of a key question and answer - about whether Sandusky was sexually attracted to young boys, Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania attorney general said on Sunday.
The repetition, Sandusky’s lawyers contend, made it appear to jurors that he was stonewalling.
“It wasn’t noticed by (NBC News), it wasn’t noticed by us, but it became obvious when it played in court,” Frederiksen told Reuters.
NBC News spokeswoman Amy Lynn confirmed this account on Sunday.
On Friday, a jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, convicted Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, of 45 counts of child sex abuse and child endangerment. Sandusky, 68, is expected to be sentenced to more than 400 years in prison.
Sandusky attorney Joe Amendola said NBC’s error would form part of the basis for an appeal. “Oh my goodness, yes,” he said, when asked about whether it could be used in an appeal.
The mistrial request was denied by Judge John Cleland, who sought to remedy the situation by providing the jury with an accurate transcript of the exchange, another Sandusky attorney Karl Rominger said.
It’s the second time in a matter of months that an error in a ‘Today’ show broadcast has put the morning program at the center of a national criminal trial. In April, ‘Today’ aired a misleadingly edited phone call between the police and the man who shot Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
The Sandusky case has rocked the world of U.S. elite college sports and led to the firing of the university’s president and Joe Paterno, a College Football Hall of Fame member who won more games as head coach than any other Division I coach. Paterno died of lung cancer in January, five months to the day before the verdict against his long-time assistant was handed down.
Amendola said another basis for a future appeal could be a request he and Rominger made to resign from the case at the start of jury selection because the lawyers didn’t feel they were given enough time between their client’s arrest in November and the June trial date. He said the request was denied by Judge Cleland.
In the Sandusky interview with NBC, Costas asks, “Are you sexually attracted to young boys, to underage boys?” according to an NBC News transcript.
Sandusky responded, “Am I sexually attracted to underage boys?”
But in the "Today" version, which was played for jurors and is still available on YouTube (here), the exchange was repeated.
The interview was originally aired correctly on NBC News’ new magazine show, ‘Rock Center’ on November 14. The erroneous version that repeated the exchange aired the following morning on ‘Today.’
In a statement, NBC’s Lynn said: ”Under subpoena, NBC News turned over three versions of the Costas interview to prosecutors, including the ‘Today’ version with the error in it. Prosecutors used the ‘Today’ version, not realizing it included a technical glitch, and played it for the jury.
“After court that day, NBC News executives had a series of discussion with the prosecutors, and after some internal investigation were able to determine that the glitch originated on ‘Today.’ NBC News executives explained the situation to the court, and Judge Cleland sought to remedy the situation by giving the jury instructions to regard only a transcript of the full interview that was subsequently provided to them, not any audio that was played for them by prosecutors.”
A source on the prosecution team acknowledged that prosecutors played the ‘Today’ version, which contained the error, without reviewing it carefully beforehand.
“Was it embarrassing?” the source asked. “It was certainly embarrassing. Was it a mistake? It was clearly a mistake.” The source also said NBC News executives expressed regret to the court.
”Did they say, ‘I‘m sorry?’ I can’t recall those exact words,‘’ the source said. “Were they apologetic? Yes.”
In the incident in April, ‘Today’ aired a misleadingly edited tape of a call to police from George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin. That edit made it appear that Zimmerman told police that Martin was black without being prompted. In fact, Zimmerman did so only when responding to a question posed by a dispatcher.
Several ‘Today’ staffers were disciplined over that incident, NBC News president Steve Capus said at the time. Network sources told Reuters a Miami-based ‘Today’ producer was fired.
NBC is majority-owned by Comcast Corp.
Reporting by Chris Fracescani in New York; Editing by Martin Howell and David Brunnstrom