Before they ever came face-to-face in Bellefonte, Pa.’s Centre County Court House, even the different ways accused pedophile Jerry Sandusky and eight of his alleged victims entered the white-pillared building said a lot. Sandusky, a once-respected Penn State assistant football coach, smiled for cameras outside. But the eight anonymous witnesses, still stalked by shame, hid their faces behind hats, glasses or, in one case, a bag.
Inside the courtroom, though, where Sandusky is on trial for 51 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year span, there came a reversal of power: They were strong, he was weak. Though at times the young men could not bear to look at their alleged tormenter, the eight alleged victims-now aged 18 to 28-shared their living nightmares with the court and in so doing helped build a solid case against Sandusky, 68, who has been living under house arrest since December. One after another, they told how they had met the football icon through his charity Second Mile, which he founded ostensibly to aid disadvantaged kids but which also provided access to vulnerable boys. Tearful at times, they told how he gave gifts of sports gear, clothing and trips before cornering them at sleepovers or in locker-room showers. They “described the pattern of manipulation and pieced together the picture of a serial child abuser,” says former sex-crimes prosecutor Rich DeSipio, who is not involved with the case.
One horrific detail chased another. “He was wrapping himself around me,” said Victim 7. “I’d sometimes scream,” said Victim 9, biting his nails, “but who would hear me in the basement? His wife [was home] but she was upstairs.” In a whisper, this victim confirmed the description of multiple rapes. Asked to point out the perpetrator, he responded, “I don’t want to look at him.” Gently pushed to respond, he glanced toward the defense table and said, “That’s Jerry.”
Sandusky-who could face life in prison if convicted-himself appeared uncowed by his accusers’ graphic testimony, even seeming to take care to look them in the eye. A heavier toll appeared on the face of Dottie Sandusky, at her husband’s side only on day one, before Judge John Cleland ordered all potential witnesses sequestered. One observer who sat near Mrs. Sandusky noticed her severe weight loss and said, “She wasn’t crying, but she looked like she had been-a lot.”
After the prosecution rested, the defense team, led by Joe Amendola, did not address specific claims. Instead, they put up witnesses like former Penn State assistant coach Richard Anderson, who testified that it isn’t unusual for coaches to shower with their charges; they suggested that victims colluded to get rich in a civil suit (though not all have retained lawyers); they claimed that Sandusky suffers from “histrionic personality disorder.” Says DeSipio: “The defense is all but saying he has a mental condition making him overly seductive with children. That’s the definition of a pedophile.”
Already the scandal-weary Penn State community is braced for civil suits from some of the alleged victims, and the prosecution, on perjury charges, of former university vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley. The state attorney general has an “active and ongoing” investigation. “The trail winds from the janitor who cleaned the showers … straight to the president of the university,” says Victim 5’s attorney Tom Kline. For some of the victims, just saying out loud what happened to them was a consolation long in coming. “I hope the testimony will be a turning point in his recovery,” says Victim 4’s attorney Ben Andreozzi. “He is relieved he’s had the chance to put this behind him.”