BELLEFONTE, Pa. — The first witness in the Jerry Sandusky trial said the veteran football coach plucked him from a broken home at age 13 and turned him into an unofficial Penn State mascot. Favored with gifts and befriended by the team’s stars, the boy felt like the cool kid at school and saw Sandusky as a father figure, he testified.
But the good things came at a price, he said.
Sandusky groped him in the shower during “soap battles,” repeatedly forced him to perform oral sex and treated him like “his girlfriend,” the witness said. He testified that when they were in Texas for a bowl game, he resisted Sandusky’s advances and that the coach asked threateningly whether he wanted to go back home.
The dramatic first day of testimony demonstrated Sandusky’s challenge as he defends himself against the accusation that he is a serial predator of young boys. The defense argues that innocent behavior has been misinterpreted, that witnesses have changed their stories and that some may be motivated by the possibility of money from future lawsuits.
But Sandusky faces a swarm of accusers. The prosecution has identified eight alleged victims, each of whom is expected to testify. Lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan III opened his argument Monday morning by showing photographs of the boys at the time they allegedly attracted Sandusky’s attention. They appeared to be in their early teens or even younger.
Sandusky faces 52 counts related to child sex abuse involving 10 boys over the course of 15 years. Two of the boys were never identified, but there were witnesses to the alleged abuse. Sandusky has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
“How can someone be innocent with so many accusers?” Sandusky’s attorney, Joseph Amendola, asked in his opening statement, posing a question that he said he thought might be on the minds of jurors. Amendola said that even though the prosecutor called the eight boys “victims,” they are actually “accusers.”
One potential witness whom Amendola singled out for having a changing story was Mike McQueary, a former Penn State assistant football coach, who told a grand jury that more than a decade ago he saw Sandusky sexually assault a young boy in a locker-room shower. Amendola said McQueary called his father the night of that alleged incident. According to a doctor who was with McQueary’s father at the time of the call, Amendola told the jurors, the father asked his son three times: “Did you see sex occur?” Each time, the answer was no. That’s why, Amendola said, no one ever called the police.
“He assumed it was sex,” Amendola said.
Amendola told the jurors that “at least six” of the alleged victims are represented by lawyers, which he said “is rare — absolutely, totally unusual.”
He indicated that Sandusky would take the stand in his own defense.
The prosecution introduced into evidence letters from Sandusky to the witness. “Some of them would be almost like creepy love letters,” the witness said. The tone is of a man experiencing great anguish as the object of his affection pulls away. At one point, Sandusky wrote, “I hope that writing some of my thoughts will not annoy you as much as I do personally.” He later wrote: “You seemed like you had bought into everything and were doing well.”
The defense has filed a document with the court suggesting that the letters show that Sandusky suffered from “histrionic personality disorder.”
The document requests that the defense be allowed to call an expert witness to testify that the letters are not evidence of “grooming” of the youth for an improper relationship. Instead, “the goal of a person suffering from this disorder in writing those letters would not necessarily be to groom or sexually consummate a relationship in a criminal manner, but rather to satisfy the needs of a psyche belabored by the needs of such a disorder.”
McGettigan alleges that Sandusky — a “serial predator,” as he put it — recruited his victims through a charity he founded, the Second Mile, that served troubled youths.
Throughout the day, Sandusky sat quietly, hunched forward at the defense table. He looked at his accuser directly, but sometimes, when the testimony became graphic, he turned away and stared into space. He moved in and out of the courtroom with an athlete’s quickness. But generally he showed little reaction and did not appear to interact with anyone other than his attorneys.
The judge has required that the alleged victims be identified in court by their full names but expressed hope that media organizations covering the trial would follow their customary practices to protect victims’ privacy. The Washington Post generally does not identify alleged sex-crime victims.
The first witness in the Sandusky trial is now 28, and he spoke forcefully and directly while detailing the alleged abuse. He rarely looked at Sandusky.
Although the witness spoke frankly about the alleged sexual molestation, his time on the stand was devoted largely to painting a broader picture of Sandusky’s actions.
The witness said Sandusky never talked about the alleged sexual incidents in the shower. Nor did the boy. They continued to spend enormous amounts of time together — the boy was always in the locker room or on the sideline at Penn State games — but they did not discuss what happened in the shower or sometimes in hotel rooms.
“It was basically like whatever happened there never really happened,” the witness said.
One document introduced into evidence is a contract between Sandusky and the boy, written by Sandusky, requiring the boy to participate in various activities related to the Second Mile. In exchange, Sandusky promised the boy money. The witness said he signed the contract simply to shut up Sandusky at a time when he wanted to distance himself from his mentor. A Second Mile official testified that such contracts were not approved by the organization.
During cross-examination, Amendola questioned the witness about his misbehavior as a child, including at least one run-in with police, and why he didn’t report the abuse or tell Sandusky to stop. The witness became animated as he explained why he didn’t speak out earlier.
“I never got any of these kinds of things in my life,” the witness said. “He was nice to me other than the other instances. I didn’t want to lose that.”
He went on: “I’ve spent so many years burying this in the back of my head.” Then came the news reports last year that Sandusky was under investigation over child molestation. The witness said he was still reluctant to speak to authorities about what had happened.
Eventually he told his story to the grand jury, but he blames himself for not coming forward sooner.
“I feel responsible for what happened to other victims,” he said.