BELLEFONTE, PA. — Jerry Sandusky sat about 10 yards away from the second row of a packed courtroom. His feet were bound. His face and body appeared old and gaunt in a red jumpsuit that hung from his frame like oversized medical scrubs. “Centre County” was stenciled in black on the back.
His head was cocked slightly to the side, like that of a curious puppy. If we’re being honest, he looked much more meek than monstrous on the day Joe Paterno’s former defensive coordinator was effectively sentenced to life in prison for sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year span.
But then he spoke. And the continued denial of a serial pedophile tumbled out. He sounded sick. Beyond self-delusional. Disturbed enough to use a football metaphor in a child sexual abuse case.
“I told Dottie that day, ‘We’re definitely in the fourth quarter now,’ ” Sandusky said, referring to his wife, as part of a rambling statement to the court before he was sentenced to jail until he is at least 99 years old. “You find out who’s with you in the fourth quarter, who will go through the hurt and pain to get you where you want to go.”
It got worse: “I see throwing 1,000 children in the air. I see hundreds of water-balloon fights. And dogs licking children’s faces.”
Listening and cringing were three of the adult survivors who put him behind bars, three grown men who confronted the man they called “Touchdown Jer” when he shoplifted their souls as children. Now, inexplicably, they were being victimized again. By Sandusky’s mindless words.
While all this was going on — as dozens of camera trucks and reporters ringed the white-pillared, Victorian Centre County Courthouse for the final time in this sorrowful tale of how grown men enabled a sexual predator and protected a football program instead of children — there was but one takeaway:
The courage of these men, now all in their 20s, to come forward is one thing to extol. But the self-restraint over the years, to not physically go after and violently punish Sandusky for what he did — to ruin their own lives out of pure selfish vengeance — that’s flat-out astounding and commendable. Because at least one looked like he wanted to Tuesday morning.
Victim 4 eyed Sandusky with a death stare oozing with rage. He wore a crew cut and a button-down shirt and a look of utter contempt. You could tell he was still working through things, still processing what had happened to him in the sauna and showers used by Penn State’s football players all those years ago.
He took a deep breath before he spoke, exhaling like a college linebacker about to bench press 350 pounds for the first time. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” Victim 4 said. “I don’t forgive you. Because of you, I trust no one. I won’t leave my child alone with anyone. My only regret, I ask that others [who came forward] before me forgive me for not coming forward sooner.”
Every time he looked up from his statement, he looked purposefully at Sandusky several feet to his right, the man he put away.
During the trial, Victim 4 was a rock for the prosecution. He explicitly detailed at least 40 acts of inappropriate sexual contact in the showers with Sandusky — wrestling matches, soap battles that sickeningly morphed into attempts at oral and anal sex.
It was wrenching to listen to the rawness pour out, from men who believed Sandusky to be their mentor, their special friend, as prepubescent kids.
“As I put the 1998 shower incident into focus . . . that night you told me you were the Tickle Monster so you could touch my 11-year-old body,” began Victim 8, choking back tears. “I’ve been left with deep, painful wounds that you caused and had been buried in the garden of my heart for many years.”
Said a tearful Victim 5, who was 13 in 2001 when Sandusky took him into a Penn State shower room and forced him to touch the ex-coach, “I am troubled with flashbacks of his naked body, something that will never be erased from my memory.”
On the way to the hotel Monday night I drove through campus, not for any particular reason other than I had never visited Penn State. Trying to find University Drive, it was after 10:30 when I looked to my left and saw a sign, “The Mildred Lasch Memorial Football Building.”
That’s it, that’s where he brought the kids, I thought. I pulled into the lot where two other cars were parked. I walked up to the mammoth front of a glass façade. It was unlocked. No guard manned the front desk, so I looked around the lobby at the memorabilia — the encased Fiesta Bowl trophy from the last national championship season in 1986, the giant “We Are Penn State” declarations. But no Paterno. Gone. Cut out, like an ex from a family photo.
I walked down a long corridor. Finally, I saw a sign that read “Locker room.” I opened the door, began to walk inside the players’ sanctuary, the place where Sandusky undressed and showered with some of those boys.
Yeah, I felt intrusive, queasy, maybe a little somber. But the most powerful emotion was this adrenaline rush of knowing I was getting away with something, like a child who rings his neighbor’s doorbell and runs — someone who knows he’s crossing normal societal boundaries but does it anyway.
I kept waiting for someone to appear, tell me to get out. But no one came.
It was then I had this disturbing thought, that after everything that’s happened, how sadly easy it must have been for Jerry Sandusky to harm those children.
You sit here composing a story in a place called Happy Valley and the anger becomes more palpable, more personal. That a man hiding under the Penn State football umbrella was allowed to run his charity as a victim factory — grooming at-risk boys with games, gifts and attention — is unconscionable, beyond tragic.
How dare they let this happen knowing what they knew, let this sick man do what he did and not have him incarcerated years ago. How dare people called “leaders of men” not stand up for those kids.
For Sandusky, it ends today. He goes away — for life. But for others, it’s just beginning.
“He’s broken,” said Benjamin Andreozzi, the lawyer for Victim 4, describing his client’s emotional state. “Right now, it’s a matter of trying to put the pieces back together. He’s in counseling. We hope he’ll continue with counseling.”
“He wanted to be able to confront Sandusky,” Andreozzi added. “He wanted to be able to read his statement in open court. Even more so, he looked at Sandusky. He looked angry. He looked in Sandusky’s eyes.”
And in those eyes he saw the vacant soul of a tired, old man who could harm him no more.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.