A telling image of Jerry Sandusky, solitary and staring

Jerry Sandusky entering the courthouse before a jury convicted him of child sex abuse.
Jerry Sandusky entering the courthouse before a jury convicted him of child sex abuse. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 24, 2012

BELLEFONTE, Pa. - The clearest portrait of Jerry Sandusky to emerge during the trial that ended Friday night with his conviction may have been the one hardly anybody saw.

It was lunchtime Monday, the defense was beginning to present its case, and the proceedings had broken for lunch. The jury had been led out of the courtroom. The attorneys were gone. All but a handful of the roughly 180 spectators and reporters had departed.

That's when a few stragglers still in the courthouse annex, watching the closed-circuit TV feed from the courtroom, noticed a curious scene.

Sandusky was sitting alone at the defense table.

He stared straight ahead. He didn't move, other than to occasionally shift in his seat.

He looked isolated in the world.

Who was that man, solitary and staring? He never told the jury. And because he did not take the stand in his defense, jurors were left to construct their image of the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach based largely on what they heard from others.

Over two weeks, even as they listened to the evidence that would lead to his conviction, jurors were also introduced in discomfiting detail to Jerry Sandusky.

He is a man who routinely showered with young boys. Who became angry when a boy sought to cool their relationship and distance himself. Who, in his 50s, wrote letters to boys that sounded like junior-high mash notes.

"What was your reaction when you first met me?" he wrote in one such letter, which did not identify its intended recipient. "How did you feel about me then? What is love? What would you miss most if a magician could make me disappear?"

In another, sent to one of his accusers, Sandusky compared himself to Forrest Gump, the naive, mentally deficient book and movie character: "I write because I still hope there will be meaning to the times we have had with each other."

From his own hand, from his own mouth - particularly in a TV interview with Bob Costas that was played in court - Sandusky revealed quirks, mannerisms, and behaviors that could hardly have helped his case. Lawyer Joseph Amendola was left to try to explain his client to the jury.

Showering with children? "Maybe you and I don't do it. Maybe we find it strange," Amendola said in his closing argument. But it's not a crime, he pointed out.

The letters to boys? "They weren't love letters," Amendola said, "they were Jerry being Jerry."

Was Jerry being Jerry during the Costas interview? Asked the straightforward question of whether he was sexually attracted to young boys, Sandusky paused, appearing to mull his answer.

"Am I sexually attracted to young boys?" he repeated. "Sexually attracted, you know, I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But no, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys."

Amendola tried to mitigate the damage. "Jerry has a habit, if somebody asks him a question, he asks the question back. It's just his habit."

Prosecutor Joseph McGettigan told the jury he didn't know anything about the defendant's speech cadences. "I only heard him on TV," he said - perhaps a subtle reminder that Sandusky did not take the stand and insist that he'd been horribly, falsely accused.

A normal response to Costas' question, the prosecutor said, would have been a loud, indignant "No! Are you nuts?"

McGettigan initiated what became another strange moment. As he ended his closing argument, the prosecutor did not stay parked at his table. He walked six steps across the courtroom to stand directly behind Sandusky, inches from him, where he bluntly accused the gray-haired coach of being a pedophile, of having a psychosexual fixation on adolescent boys.

Sandusky didn't turn to look at the prosecutor. Instead, he kept his gaze on the jurors, fixing them with an awkward grin.

They had heard admirable descriptions of Sandusky in the testimony of his wife and friends, people who have stood by him since he was charged in November, others who knew him mostly from his high standing as a coach and benefactor of children.

A saint, said one. A heart of gold, said another. A churchgoer, an inspiration. Not merely devoted, but determined to help children through the Second Mile charity he founded. He gave money and clothes to kids who needed it. He became a father figure to children who needed a dad more than anything else in the world.

"That's the Jerry Sandusky all those people over there know," said Amendola, waving his arm toward the family members seated at the front of the courtroom.

Amendola told the jury: Think. Think carefully. Sandusky founded the Second Mile back in 1977, and it has had contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of children. With scores of parents, guidance counselors, teachers. Yet no one made a complaint until November 2008, when authorities launched an initial investigation.

But the numbers cut both ways.

During his 30 years at Penn State, Sandusky coached thousands of football players. As defensive coordinator, he was dean of "Linebacker U," the program that launched the pro careers of some of the most famous players in NFL history.

Yet of all those players, only one took the stand in Sandusky's defense - Lance Mehl, who played at Penn State from 1976 to 1979, became an all-pro linebacker with the New York Jets, and now works as a probation officer in Ohio.

"We all looked up to him. A class act," Mehl testified.

Sandusky's nearest neighbors in State College have plastic signs on their lawns that voice support for sex-abuse victims. The charity he founded is poised to disband. If convicted, he could be sentenced to hundreds of years in prison, but at age 68, any significant time would amount to a life sentence.

In court Friday, Sandusky was again surrounded by defense lawyers, aides, reporters, and spectators, a focus of attention as people turned to try to see if he was frowning or smiling. He looked blankly at the jury as a portion of the trial testimony was reread.

And he was entirely a man alone.


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

Inquirer staff writer Susan Snyder contributed to this article.

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