June 19 (Bloomberg) -- Jerry Sandusky never showed signs of abusing young boys, a character witness said at the trial of the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach as the defense began putting on its case.
“Jerry had a great reputation,” Richard Anderson, a retired member of the coaching staff who worked with Sandusky and considered him a close friend, told a jury yesterday. “He was well thought of in every regard.”
Anderson said he never saw anything inappropriate involving Sandusky, 68.
The ex-coach faces more than 50 accusations of assaulting 10 boys over 15 years. He may spend the rest of his life in jail if convicted. The trial, in state court in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, began June 11.
Another character witness, retiree Booker Brooks, told jurors he coached with Sandusky and went with him on scouting trips.
Sandusky is “a great guy” and his reputation is “exemplary, top-notch,” Brooks said.
Both witnesses said it wasn’t unusual for coaches to take showers with youths.
Prosecutors earlier presented testimony of some of the alleged victims, including accounts of purported shower assaults. The men now range in age from 18 to 28.
As the trial began, defense attorney Joseph Amendola urged jurors to “keep an open mind” until they hear all the evidence.
One earlier potential witness, former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, 85, died of cancer in January. He was fired in November along with university President Graham Spanier.
Sandusky is charged with multiple counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, each punishable by as long as 20 years in prison. Sandusky denies the allegations.
Judge John M. Cleland, who is presiding over the trial, told jurors the defense may wind down its case by June 20, with closing arguments possible on June 21.
Cleland said that when they begin deliberating, jurors will be sequestered, “isolated from outside influences.”
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.
A 28-year-old man who met Sandusky through Second Mile testified that Sandusky began touching him inappropriately in 1997 when he was about 13.
The man said Sandusky eventually forced him to perform oral sex more than 40 times over five years. As the boy matured, he would sometimes hide in a closet when Sandusky arrived looking for him, the witness said.
According to testimony in a grand jury report released at the time of Sandusky’s arrest, he abused boys in the showers of a school athletic building and invited victims to Penn State games as well as into his home.
Under cross-examination, Anderson said he’d seen Sandusky showering with young boys.
“Do you shower with young boys?” he was asked by lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan.
“Yes, all the time,” Anderson replied.
Asked whether he hugged them, he said “no.”
“The first time I ever took a shower in high school was with coaches, that was part of my life,” Anderson said.
When Brooks was cross-examined, he said that “throughout my life as a football coach, I have showered with younger men than myself.”
“That’s common,” he said. “You go into your local YMCA today, you’ll see many individuals of different ages in the shower.”
“If someone took your grandson and hugged him in the shower, would that be agreeable?” McGettigan asked.
“Well, no,” Brooks said.
David B. Pasquinelli, a political consultant, testified in Sandusky’s defense that the two worked together on a $7 million mobile-fundraising campaign beginning in 2007 for Second Mile.
“Jerry was a local hero,” he said. “I saw mutual admiration” between the charity’s youth and Sandusky. “I saw a lot of goofing around. Jerry had a very unique way” of relating to youngsters “that many of us were inspired by.”
The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Sandusky, CP-14-2422-2011, Court of Common Pleas, Centre County, Pennsylvania (Bellefonte).
To contact the reporters on this story: Drew Gingrich in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania; Sophia Pearson in Philadelphia at firstname.lastname@example.org; Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware, at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org.