Jerry Sandusky languished the summer away in prison, scrawling what he intended to be his opus to proving his innocence. But the 18-minute statement he gave in court on Tuesday morning fell flat after Judge John Cleland sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison.
The former Penn State assistant football coach, now a convicted child sex abuser, made his first public appearance on Tuesday at the same Bellefonte, Pa., courtroom where he was convicted of 45 counts of abuse back in June. Tuesday’s conviction hearing was over in less than 90 minutes.
He faced a maximum sentence of 442 years but received far fewer. Still, it’s almost certainly a life sentence for the 68-year-old Sandusky.
The trial began with Cleland discussing whether the defendant should be classified as a sexually violent predator, which could affect the number of years he must wait until he is eligible for parole. He’ll serve no fewer than 30 years and no more than 60. According to MSNBC, Cleland was stern and measured in his statement to the court when he handed down the sentence, recognizing that a minimum of 30 years means Sandusky will likely die in jail. “The crime is not only what you did to their bodies but to their psyches and their souls and the assault to the well-being of the larger community in which we all live,” Cleland said.
Sandusky and his lawyers were prepared for such a sentence. Though a number of the counts were tossed out, the defense team widely expected him to spend the remainder of his life in prison. “Whatever the sentence, because of the number of offenses and Jerry’s age, it is tantamount to life,” Sandusky attorney Joe Amendola told USA Today. “We’ve talked about the possibility of this from the very beginning. It’s not going to be pleasant.”
Tuesday marked the first time Sandusky has spoken publicly in court about the crimes of which he has been convicted. Despite extensive speculation and expectation, he didn’t take the stand during his trial. His only previous comment on the case was limited to a few highly awkward interviews with NBC’s Rock Center and the New York Times around the time when the scandal broke. It’s thought that his lawyers advised him to not speak after those interviews, which some called “damning.”
But in his 18-minute speech to the court on Tuesday, described as a “rambling” statement, he talked about his job with the Penn State football team and how he valued the time he spent with children at football games and charitable events. But he did little to curry favor with the judge or his accusers.
He has spent the past three months in the Centre County Correctional Facility, just three miles from the Bellefonte courtroom, reportedly using many of his days to pen the speech in a last-minute attempt to convince the judge of his innocence.
Later on Tuesday he will be moved to Camp Hill State Prison, near Harrisburg, where he will serve out his sentence.
His statements were somewhat pre-empted by an audio tape he recorded from prison, which aired on Monday night on a local radio station. It featured a defiant — some said delusional — Sandusky, who proclaimed his innocence. “They could take away my life, they could make me out as a monster, they could treat me as a monster, but they can’t take away my heart. In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts,” he said in the three-minute statement on Penn State’s ComRadio.
Sandusky arrived at the courtroom on Tuesday just before the 9 a.m. hearing began. He sported the red jail garb of the Centre County facility, but that wasn’t the most striking image. Reporters at the courtroom remarked on Sandusky’s seeming frailness. He appeared to have lost as much as 20 pounds in the past three months.
The June trial spanned eight days of testimony and 20 short hours of deliberation, with the jury of seven women and five men delivering a speedy guilty verdict late one Friday night. After Sandusky was pronounced guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse against 10 young boys over the course of 15 years, he was whisked away to the local prison.
His remarks to the court were widely expected. “He is not going to apologize,” Amendola told USA Today of the statement. “He will not be asking for mercy. He’s always said he is innocent. He firmly believes that, and he’s hanging on to that.”
Four victims gave emotional statements to the court about their years of abuse at Sandusky’s hands, according to NBC News. They were, by all accounts, witnesses in the original trial, whose graphic testimonies helped convict the once respected coach.
Sandusky was once a revered community member who founded the charity the Second Mile near the Penn State campus in order to provide a father figure to disadvantaged young boys. It has emerged that Sandusky met many of his victims through this charity, which has since been shut down.
The impact of the scandal, which broke in November 2011, has been wide-reaching. Sandusky was demonized in the Penn State community. The allegations led to the downfall of many prominent Penn State officials, including praised head football coach Joe Paterno, who died in January after a struggle with lung cancer. The Freeh report, an independent report commissioned by the Penn State board of trustees, found that high-ranking administrators including Paterno, former president Graham Spanier, former senior vice president for finance Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley had a “total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders … for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.” All have proclaimed their innocence in the matter, especially Curley and Schultz, who face perjury and failure-to-report charges related to the case. The Freeh report asserted that there was an extensive dialogue, particularly in e-mail, related to the allegations of child sex abuse against Sandusky and that these conversations were happening as early as 1998.
It’s no surprise that these officials fell quickly out of favor with the Penn State community. Much of the heralded imagery starring the hugely popular Nittany Lions football team has been scrubbed in recent months as students, professors and the far-reaching alumni community have sought to repair their tarnished image. Sandusky was erased from a mural adjacent to the Penn State campus, replaced with an advocate for sex-abuse victims. A statue of Paterno that once stood on campus was taken down after protests by students following the Freeh report, which was released in July.
On Tuesday the most important figures in the Sandusky trial, the victims, were able to see the convicted abuser led off to prison, presumably for the remainder of his life.