No one was expecting the trial of Jerry Sandusky to be a painless case. But when lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan III put a photomontage of eight of the the former Penn State defensive coordinator’s alleged victims before the jury, the reality of the situation sunk in deeper: no matter how bad we thought the allegations were, it became immediately clear just how much more had been concealed.
Proceedings began Monday morning in the sleepy town of Bellefonte, Pa., just 10 miles from the sprawling campus of Penn State. Sandusky is charged with 52 counts of criminal sexual child abuse over a span of 15 years. The case has already cost the careers of the university president and its legendary head coach Joe Paterno, and forced a town once proud of its football team’s legacy to come to grips with the scandal that has tarnished it.
McGettigan, after displaying the pictures of the alleged victims, then showed the court three highlighted words that loomed starkly over the court: humiliation, shame and fear. The words, he explained, were the reason each of the young boys waited so long before coming forward to police. McGettigan criticized Sandusky’s now-shuttered Second Mile charity, which he founded in 1977, as the “perfect environment for the predatory pedophile.”
The first witness, identified in public only as Victim No. 4, took the stand Monday afternoon. Now 28, the alleged victim described how he first met Sandusky when he was 13 through The Second Mile. Victim No. 4 said he suffered more than 40 instances of abuse by Sandusky. It started, he said, with “play fighting” and “soap battles”, escalated to hugging and caressing and eventually to oral sex. He testified that the alleged abuse went on for more than 5 years but he was “too scared” to tell anyone. “This was something good happening,” he told the jury of 7 women and 5 men. “I didn’t want to lose that.”
Victim No. 4, the first of eight accusers expected to testify, said Sandusky, now 68, would take him on trips to bowl games. Their interactions, he claimed, had a seemingly romantic bent. “He would put his hand on my leg, basically like I was his girlfriend,” he said, gesturing. “It freaked me out extremely bad.”
At times, videos and photos of him as a boy with Sandusky were shown on a large video screen. The court was also shown a handwritten note to the boy on Penn State letterhead signed “Jerry.” The alleged victim testified that Sandusky sometimes wrote “creepy love letters,” and proceeded to read the note on the screen. “I know that I have made my share of mistakes,” the letter read. “However I hope that I will be able to say that I cared. There has been love in my heart.”
When Sandusky’s lawyer Joseph Amendola gave his opening statement, he attempted to paint Sandusky as a good Samaritan with a storied history of helping children, particularly disadvantaged boys. He highlighted the six children that Sandusky and his wife Dottie had adopted because they couldn’t bear children of their own. According to Amendola, any perceived misdeeds by Sandusky were born out of a desire to improve kids’ lives. “Jerry loves kids so much that he does things most of us wouldn’t think of doing,” Amendola said.
Or could Sandusky’s unconventional actions have been caused by a psychological problem? Defense attorney Karl Rominger argued that Sandusky’s love letters were caused by histrionic personality disorder, which causes him to send aggrandized, attention-seeking missives — while emphasizing that his client wasn’t attempting to entice the boys into sex. Amendola hinted that the alleged victims could be out for money, saying that six of the eight identified accusers had taken the step of hiring civil attorneys. “These young men have a financial interest,” he said.
Amendola noted that Sandusky would tell his story “in his own words,” raising the prospect that the retired coach would take the stand at some point during the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.