Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach at the center of the child-sex-abuse scandal that rocked the worlds of college sports and academia, was excoriated Monday morning by prosecutors as a “predatory pedophile” whose actions against boys took place over years.
Opening statements in the highly publicized trial unfolded in a courtroom in Bellfonte, Penn., just 10 miles from the Penn State campus where some of the incidents of abuse are alleged to have occurred. Sandusky is accused of 52 criminal counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years.
The jury of seven men and five women -- most of whom have some connection to Penn State as teachers, students or just committed football fans -- watched as Senior Deputy Atty. Gen. Joseph McGettigan III displayed photographs of the alleged victims as happy boys, according to media reports from inside the courtroom.
He explained the futures of some of the children: a father, a Penn State graduate and a member of the armed services.
“When you look at young men up there, see them as children,” the lead prosecutor said.
For prosecutors, the Sandusky case is an all too common tale in a child-abuse proceeding: An elderly man in a position of mentoring young boys grooms them with gifts and affection, and then allegedly abuses them.
Sandusky founded a charity in 1977 for at-risk children -- The Second Mile. McGettigan called the charity the “perfect environment for the predatory pedophile” and his way to get close to his victims.
The defense presented its opening remarks later Monday. Defense attorney Joe Amendola denied that there was anything criminal in Sandusky’s relationship with the boys. The former coach gave gifts, but there was no wrongdoing.
Amendola called the prosecution investigation flimsy and said some of the young men have a financial interest in the case.
The shape of the prosecution appears to rely heavily on the alleged victims and other witnesses, including Mike McQueary, a former graduate student and football coach who said he witnessed Sandusky in the showers at Penn State with a naked 10-year-old boy.
The defense, however, has a bigger decision to make: Will it allow Sandusky to testify?
Defense lawyers worked hard to keep the trial in Bellfonte hoping for a home-court advantage from local jurors who may see Sandusky in a positive light because of his long-standing ties to the community, his charitable efforts and his fame working under iconic Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno -- who was fired during the scandal.
Paterno’s widow and son are both on the defense witness list.
The defense will attempt to spread doubt as it cross-examines the prosecution witnesses. The strongest voice against the alleged victims would likely be Sandusky himself, though he has a less-than-perfect past when it comes to talking about the abuse.
In media interviews, Sandusky conceded that he showered with boys, but denied doing anything untoward.
In an interview with Bob Costas, a noted television sports journalist, Sandusky stumbled verbally when asked if he was sexually attracted to boys.
In his nearly hour-long opening statement, McGettigan noted the interviews.
“You will understand what’s going on in these interviews is what happens when someone is confronted with charges like these. Admit what you must, deny what you can, and allege a conspiracy,” he said.