Prosecutors today began making their case against Jerry Sandusky, the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach accused of using his charity and school ties to target and sexually abuse young boys.
Sandusky, 68, faces 52 criminal counts for allegedly abusing 10 boys over 15 years. If convicted in state court in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
The heart of the prosecution’s case is the testimony of eight alleged victims, now ranging in age from 18 to 28. A prosecutor read the first names of many of the boys for the jury and described abuses they allegedly suffered. He said one of the victims almost fainted and threw up when he testified to a grand jury.
They “don’t want to talk about, think about or remember,” the humiliation, Assistant State Attorney General Joe McGettigan told jurors in his opening statement. “But I’ll have to press them for details.”
During a slideshow of the victims, Sandusky stared straight ahead, and not at the pictures.
In his opening statement, defense lawyer Joseph Amendola said defending Sandusky “is a daunting task” based on what state officials suggest is “overwhelming evidence.”
“One of the keys to your perception is to keep an open mind, to wait until all of the evidence is in,” he said.
Joe Paterno, Penn State’s head football coach, was fired in November, as was university President Graham Spanier, for failing to act when accusations against Sandusky came to light more than a decade ago. Paterno, who wasn’t charged with a crime, died of cancer in January at age 85. Two other school officials were charged for their handling of the matter.
“It certainly ranks among the worst incidents in the history of American higher education,” Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the Washington-based American Council on Education, which represents college presidents, said in a phone interview. “It will take a while for Penn State to come to terms with this. You never move beyond it. When you write the history of Penn State, this will certainly be the low point.”
Sandusky was initially accused Nov. 5 of crimes involving eight boys. Prosecutors added more counts the following month when two new accusers came forward. The counts against Sandusky include 11 charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, each punishable by as long as 20 years in prison.
Sandusky maintains his innocence. In papers filed in May, Sandusky said allegations regarding four victims are so general that he can’t adequately prepare a defense.
Amendola argued that charges involving two alleged victims whose identities are still unknown to authorities should be thrown out. Judge John M. Cleland, who is presiding over the trial, rejected that request to dismiss charges June 8.
Prosecutors say Sandusky used the charity he founded in 1977, The Second Mile, to recruit victims, “grooming” them with gifts, trips to football games and money. The children ranged in age from 10 to 15 when the alleged abuse occurred.
Second Mile served children with physical, emotional and academic needs, according to its website. The charity said last month that it would close and transfer its assets to a Houston- based nonprofit.
Those assets more than tripled from 2002 through 2009, according to Internal Revenue Service filings. Second Mile had revenue of $2.7 million and net assets of $9 million, according to its 2010 annual report. Sandusky was the group’s primary fundraiser.
A 28-year-old man who met Sandusky through the Second Mile charity told jurors today that the ex-coach began touching him inappropriately in 1997.
The man said Sandusky invited him to play racquetball at Penn State’s campus when he was a 14-year-old student at a local high school. After playing, Sandusky would touch his genitals as the two “soaped up” in the shower, the victim testified.
Sandusky enticed him into a long-term relationship by giving the student sideline passes to Penn State football games, taking him to golf outings and inviting him to family picnics, the man said.
The abuse progressed to the point that Sandusky began forcing him to perform oral sex, the man said. That occurred more than 40 times during the five-year relationship, he added.
The man said as he matured, he distanced himself from Sandusky and the coach would sometimes come over to his house looking for him.
“Sometimes if I got home I would look outside and he’d be there and I’d grab the phone and hide in the closet, just hoping he wouldn’t find me,” the man told jurors
Second Mile supporters with ties to Penn State included former university spokesman Steve Hevner and Dorothy Huck, the wife of Penn State emeritus board trustee Lloyd Huck, who sat on the charity’s state board.
In 2002, Penn State sold land for a new learning center to Second Mile, according to documents submitted to the state as part of charity’s application for a $3 million construction grant. State officials dropped the grant in November after Sandusky was charged.
According to testimony in a grand jury report released at the time of Sandusky’s arrest, he allegedly abused boys in the showers of a school athletic building and invited victims to Penn State games, as well as into his home.
“He had a modus operandi in how he dealt with these children,” Lisa Friel, former chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex crimes unit and now vice president of sexual misconduct consulting for T&M Protection Resources LLC, a security and investigations company. “It’s the typical MO of a pedophile.”
Penn State has said it’s cooperating with investigations by the state attorney general, the U.S. Education Department, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and federal authorities.
“The acts that Jerry Sandusky is accused of committing are horrible and if proven true, deserve punishment,” the university said in a statement June 5. “In deference to the legal process, the university will not comment on specifics of the ongoing legal case as it unfolds. We are hopeful, however, that the case proceeds quickly and provides answers we are all seeking.”
A jury of seven women and five men was selected to try the case. At least six of the 12 have ties to Penn State or possible witnesses, including a woman who has been a season ticket holder since the 1970s, a man who’s currently a Penn State junior and a man who is a retired Penn State soil science professor. Of the four alternate jurors, three women and one man, two have ties to Penn State.
“All have read and heard things about the case,” Cleland told the jury today. “Some of you are football fans, some could care less. Some are single, some are parents, some are grandparents. You are, in short, a cross-section of Centre County.”
After the firings of Paterno and Spanier in November, police in riot gear used pepper spray to disperse thousands of protesters chanting “We Are Penn State.” Since then, the scandal’s effect on Penn State has been mixed.
Eighty-two percent of alumni had positive feelings about the university, according to a survey Penn State released June 7. That was down from 91 percent in 2009, the last time the school asked its graduates.
The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Sandusky, CP-14-2422-2011, Court of Common Pleas, Centre County, Pennsylvania (Bellefonte).