Months in the making, the trial starts here

With photos and sometimes graphic testimony, official proceedings begin in the case against Jerry Sandusky.

Posted: June 13, 2012

BELLEFONTE, Pa. - One by one, the photos of eight boys flashed onto the courtroom viewing screen, blond and dark haired, dressed in T-shirts or long-sleeved flannels, alike only in their youth and their smiles.

All but one shot was in color, the lone black-and-white the picture of a boy who spent so many years in foster care that he eventually aged out of the system, never having gotten a good color photo of himself.

Jerry Sandusky, a former Pennsylvania State University football coach on trial here on charges of sexually abusing those children, didn't look at the faces on the screen. The jurors stared.

In this small central Pennsylvania borough, the opening day of arguments and testimony in the nationally prominent trial offered many things: poignant images of youth and virtue, a strong declaration of Sandusky's innocence by his lawyer, and enough of a show at the Centre County Courthouse that some people came hundreds of miles to be here, while others deliberately stayed away.

On Allegheny Avenue and nearby streets, television satellite dishes loomed like flowers. Two dozen television cameras pointed toward an empty lectern stationed at the base of the courthouse steps, available to anyone who wished to share an opinion, position or thought. Behind those lenses waited two dozen more.

"Bellefonte likes publicity," said Valerie Owens Echols, a transplanted New Jerseyan who runs the Rags to Riches Resale Shop near the courthouse, "but not this kind of publicity."

The trial had just started, but merchants and salesmen here already wished for the whole thing to be over.

Some wouldn't miss it.

Anthony Cristina, a 21-year-old Penn State senior from Swarthmore, showed up at the courthouse dressed in a blue blazer, khaki pants, and buffed shoes - and he wasn't even part of the trial. "I owe it to the victims to see justice done by coming here today," he said.

Christopher Anderson arrived with the same goal, all the way from New York. As executive director of Male Survivor, a group that helps victims overcome sexual trauma, he said, he wouldn't be anywhere else. The alleged victims in this case will seek justice in the coming weeks, he said, but their healing will take years.

"These guys can get through this and find happiness," Anderson said.

Inside the ornate second-floor courtroom, where pendulum lights hang from gold-leaf medallions, the space quickly turned warm for the roughly 170 people who got seats. The pace was brisk: news media seated at 7:45 a.m., the public immediately afterward, and Sandusky lumbering into court at 8:10 a.m.

He went almost immediately to a side room and didn't emerge until shortly before the trial started at 9. Loaded on a nearby table by the defense were six full file boxes, some labeled "accusers/alleged victims" as if to underscore the unproven nature of the allegations, and perhaps to suggest the mounds of research that wait in rebuttal.

Sandusky is charged with molesting 10 boys - two alleged victims could not be found - during a 15-year period, in a case that has stained the once-glorious reputation of Penn State.

The first witness, a 28-year-old man, said that beginning when he was about 13, Sandusky would wrestle him to the ground in the campus locker-room showers, which eventually led to oral sex. His description was graphic.

Just earlier, defense lawyer Joseph Amendola implored the jury: Just because testimony is shocking doesn't make it true.

Those photos of the boys? "Cute kids," he said, but in America, allegations are sometimes part of family disputes. He asserted that six of the eight had retained civil lawyers, intimating that a desire for money lay at the heart of their allegations.

"Why do people lie?" he asked.

Sandusky watched his lawyer closely, following every rise and fall in cadence, every step nearer or away from the jurors.

Prosecutor Joseph McGettigan 3d saw nothing deceptive in the boys' faces. One boy was pictured beside a soccer goalpost, another posed before the familiar blue background that seems to have been used for every school picture.

Yes, he said, the sexual abuse was years in the past. As the trial proceeds, grown men will take the stand to speak of things done to them when they were boys ages 10, 11, and 12.

"The past isn't dead. It's not even past," he told the jury, quoting Faulkner. "We'll find out how true that is."


Contact Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415, or jgammage@phillynews.com, or follow @jeffgammage on Twitter.

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