Sketch artists at Sandusky trial offer a blurred view of accusers

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Inside the courtroom of Jerry Sandusky’s trial, the testimony is graphic.

Intimate touches. Oral sex. Shower scenes.

The news media has descended on the Centre County Courthouse to capture the trial in words and images. But because Pennsylvania bans cameras in most courtrooms, a trio of sketch artists employed by the media organizations offers a peek into an emotional world.

One captures a distraught accuser with his face in his hands after an aggressive cross-examination. Another shows an alleged victim testifying under Sandusky’s sideways gaze.

Most media outlets are obscuring the faces of the alleged victims, just as they are withholding their names. The three sketch artists are largely obscuring the accusers’ faces too. One artist has been asked to draw accurate sketches, with the face details being obscured for now by at least one television network. But the detailed sketches would later be available if any of the alleged victims agreed to be identified.

Fox News says it decides on a case-by-case basis. The network’s “Studio B with Shepard Smith” aired a sketch of an accuser’s face Monday afternoon, but that evening obscured the image on Smith’s “The Fox Report.”

Richard Goedkoop, a retired communications professor from LaSalle University in Philadelphia who wrote the book “Inside Local TV News,” said the decision is an ethical one, not a legal one.

The judge overseeing Sandusky’s trial ruled that the now-adult accusers don’t have a legal right to have their names withheld.

“The same would also apply to artists’ renditions of their appearance on the stand,” Goedkoop said. “Those papers and TV stations who believe that they should maintain privacy could request that their artists give minimal facial detail to limit the possibility of identification … but they are not under the legal requirement to do so.”

He said news outlets work to balance sensitivity to accusers with telling a balanced story. It’s been argued that if the accused is identified, why shouldn’t the accuser? Goedkoop said he personally would not argue for publishing photos of Sandusky’s accusers. The Times is not publishing the alleged victims’ names.

Mia Fernandez, executive director of the Center for Victims of Crime inWashington, D.C., said that showing detailed images is “equivalent [to] if not worse” than identifying someone by name.

“A victim coming forward is in a very vulnerable position. What they want to do is control the situation as much as possible,” she said. “If they know the images are being blasted by the media, it feels like they are losing control. It might really inhibit [other] victims from coming forward and telling their story.”

It’s the reason that her organization, along with five others groups, fought hard — though unsuccessfully — to allow Sandusky’s accusers to use pseudonyms in court.

She’s had no complaints yet about courtroom sketches from the Sandusky trial.

Centre County Court Administrator Maxine Ishler said Judge John M. Cleland gave courtroom sketch artists in the Sandusky trial only verbal instructions before the trial started. He told them not to draw the jurors at all, but said they could sketch Sandusky’s accusers if the likenesses were not recognizable.

The courtroom artists at the trial, which was on recess Friday and will resume Monday, have interpreted the instructions differently. Christine Cornell, who is drawing the trial for CNN and CBS, said she was rendering only the highlights and shadows of the accusers’ faces, with a result that resembles a department store mannequin.

Art Lien, a pool sketch artist contracted by NBC and other news agencies, including the Morning Call, said he sought guidance from court officials before drawing likenesses of the alleged victims.

“The reply was to draw them, but don’t draw them too well,” he said.

Lien, a courtroom sketch artist for more 30 years, said he usually leaves the faces of sensitive witnesses and officials blank, as in the case of military tribunals, where the judges are anonymous.

In the Sandusky trial, he has left jurors’ faces blank. He purposefully left the facial features of childhood portraits of Sandusky’s accusers hazy.

“You wouldn’t recognize them,” he said.

But he has sketched alleged victims in detail. In this case, he said, NBC asked him to accurately portray the witnesses, knowing the network would digitally obscure the faces before airing them.

Lien said his editors at NBC asked him to provide compelling likenesses with the expectation that some of Sandusky’s accusers would later reveal their identities.

“It would be my preference to leave them completely blank,” he said of their faces.

Morning Call staff writer Andrew McGill contributed to this report.