The Conlin case – a monster among us?

    Bill Conlin and I worked at the same paper for 20 years, but I never saw him more than a handful of times. The sports guys at the Daily News were a different breed, talented and hardworking, but rarely seen in the newsroom.

    I appeared on a TV show with him once. My sense of him was that he was talented, eccentric and interested above all in his own opinions. People who know him better describe him as a brilliant sports analyst and writer, and a serious student of jazz, classical music and meteorology.

    He was said to be often friendly and gregarious, but at times a bombastic bully, especially if he felt you didn’t recognize his status as a living legend.

    But surely, no one expected this – accusations from four people that he fondled and groped them when they were kids.

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    One of the fascinating aspects of the Conlin saga is that it isn’t a legal case.

    When a Jerry Sandusky or someone else is charged with child abuse, his attorney can point out that an indictment is a one-sided account, a set of alleged facts assembled by people with a professional interest in conviction.

    Though he doesn’t face jail time, Conlin’s circumstance is in some respects worse. His indictment is in the court of public opinion, the case prepared by a thorough, fair investigative journalist with a reputation to protect.

    The chief accuser in Nancy Phillips’ story is a county prosecutor, here not seeking a conviction, but placing her own career and credibility on the line by telling a painful personal story.

    If Conlin were facing a criminal prosecution, his lawyer could try and sow reasonable doubt in a jury and secure acquittal. If it were a civil suit, he could attack the credibility of the accusers, and argue they have a financial motive for telling stories.

    But Conlin has no forum for arguing his innocence, except the court of public opinion.

    It’s interesting that his attorney, George Bochetto said yesterday Conlin had retained him “to do everything possible to bring the facts forward to vindicate his name.”

    Does that mean Bochetto will interview witnesses, prepare reports, call news conferences, get Conlin on Sixty Minutes?

    We’ll see. Two more things about the Conlin case strike me.

    One is how none of the adults whose kids suffered this alleged abuse went to the police. It was a different era, and we can be thankful that things have changed, and people are far less inclined to treat this stuff as a private matter today.

    The other is the eerie sense it leaves that we know far less than we think about the people around us – what dark secrets may lurk in the lives of our friends, neighbors and co-workers.

    We’ll have more on the story, including an interview with Inquirer writer Nancy Phillips on Newsworks Tonight.

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