As opening arguments began Monday in the trial of Penn State football legend Jerry Sandusky, prosecutors showed jurors a slide show of eight adolescent boys, putting faces to the stories of children alleged to have suffered sexual abuse by Sandusky over a period of years.
The first of those men, known as “Victim 4,” testified in graphic detail about his encounters with Sandusky. "If I had said anything, it would be so much worse. I would deny it forever," he said.
Sandusky’s attorney, Joseph Amendola, asked jurors to “keep an open mind,” and questioned the motivations of the accusers.
It was the moment many residents had anticipated – and dreaded – for more than half a year.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
In November, a bombshell dropped on this community, where the university is the biggest source of employment – and the biggest source of pride. A 52-count indictment against Sandusky on child sex-abuse charges led to the firing of the university’s president, Graham Spanier, and the indictment of two university officials on perjury charges. It also resulted in the firing of head coach Joe Paterno, who’d led the storied football program for six decades.
Several months later, a lot has changed. Penn State has a new president and a new head football coach. Paterno died of lung cancer in January at age 85.
On Monday, life outside the courtroom continued pretty much as it usually would on a muggy June day. Some residents worked in their yards, mowing the lawn, watering flowers or painting garage doors. Others ran errands to the post office or the bank. A visitor would be hard-pressed to find any evidence of a high-profile national trial taking place just a few blocks away.
But a mob scene surrounded the 19th-century courthouse, with walls of TV satellite trucks, tangles of cables and dozens of furiously tweeting reporters – as if a set from the recent high-profile criminal trials of John Edwards and Casey Anthony had been packed up, transported and reassembled.
Attorneys for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania opened their case by showing the judge and jurors a slide show of eight of Sandusky’s 10 alleged victims, all smiling adolescent boys whom he met through the Second Mile, a charity he founded in 1977 to help underprivileged youths.
Lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan said Sandusky had cultivated relationships with the boys, who all are adults now, ranging from their late teens to late 20s. At least six of them had no fathers in their lives, McGettigan said. Three were orphans. All were used and abused for sexual purposes, he said, by a “serial predator.”
“You’ll be hearing the voices of these young men,” McGettigan said. “They are real people with real experiences that you will hear about and understand.”
In a glimpse of what’s likely to come, jurors heard from one of those young men, a 28-year-old identified in the grand jury presentment that led to Sandusky’s indictment. The man, Victim 4, described in graphic detail his alleged encounters with Sandusky, which he said included touching, oral sex and attempted anal penetration.
Amendola, Sandusky’s lead attorney, described Sandusky as a caring mentor who’d given his time to make the young men’s lives better, and he told jurors that they’d hear other Second Mile participants, as well as Sandusky himself, testify to that effect.
“He felt they were all extended members of his family,” Amendola said. “He wanted these kids to succeed.”
Amendola questioned the credibility of a pivotal prosecution witness, Mike McQueary, a former graduate assistant who allegedly saw Sandusky assaulting a boy in a locker room shower.
Amendola said the jurors would hear a lot of graphic testimony. “But that doesn’t make it true.”
He also cast doubt on the motivations of the alleged victims. “We believe the evidence will show these young men had a financial interest in this case,” he said.
McGettigan said Sandusky’s accusers felt humiliated and afraid, which had shamed them into years of silence.
“You’ll understand how those emotions produced that response,” McGettigan told the jurors.
Victim 4 told the court that Sandusky had lavished attention on him over a five-year period, buying him golf clubs, snowboards, shoes, a drum set and other gifts. The man said Sandusky had taken him to Penn State football games, where he’d watched from the sidelines. They posed together for pictures with star players. He said Sandusky had even taken him to two out-of-state bowl games. “I kind of felt like I was a mascot,” he said.
Because his father wasn’t in his life, the man told the jury, Sandusky assumed that role.
“He would act like he was my dad,” the man said. “People would refer to him as my dad.”
But when they were alone together, the man testified, Sandusky turned into a different person.
“He would put his hand on my leg like I was his girlfriend,” he said. “It freaked me out. I couldn’t stand it.”
That was only the beginning of Sandusky’s strange behavior, the man said.
He told the jury that playing racquetball or basketball with Sandusky eventually led to showering together. The showering led to wrestling. The wrestling led to touching, he said, and the touching to oral sex and other behavior.
Whether the alleged activity took place in locker room showers on the Penn State campus, at hotel rooms or even in Sandusky’s house, they never discussed what they did.
“It was basically like whatever happened there never really happened,” the man said.
He said he didn’t tell anyone because he was scared to. He said he’d enjoyed the perks Sandusky provided but eventually it all became too much.
The man said that as he grew into his teens, he tried to break off contact with Sandusky. He asked his grandmother to tell Sandusky he wasn’t there when the coach called. When Sandusky came over, he hid in closets.
“I think he started to get the picture,” the man said.
Sandusky wrote letters, some of which the man said seemed like “creepy love letters.”
The prosecutors showed the jurors a handwritten letter, on Penn State letterhead, which the man said Sandusky had written to him.
In part, it said: “There has been love in my heart. . . . Love never ends. I believe that it can overcome all things!”