Days of pain for accusers in Penn State sex abuse trial
BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania |
BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Some spoke so softly they were barely audible. Others were stoic, while some were almost defiant. One wept.
But no matter their demeanors, each of the eight young men summoned to the witness stand in a Pennsylvania courthouse this week revealed a similar narrative of sexual abuse as young boys. And one man stood at the center of each account: former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Over four days of graphic and often wrenching testimony, a consistent pattern emerged: The burly, outgoing coach would put his hand on a knee in a car. That progressed to more intrusive touching, tickling and hugging. In some cases, the pattern ended with forced oral and anal sex.
For years, shame kept them from talking about it. Fear also had a role.
"He was an important guy, he was a football coach. Who would believe kids?" said the last accuser to take the stand, identified in a grand jury report as Victim 9.
Hanging his head, the 18-year-old man said Sandusky had anally raped him and forced him to perform oral sex.
Before his arrest in November, Sandusky was a respected former assistant coach with the vaunted Pennsylvania State University football program and the founder of Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youth.
The alleged victims, ranging from 18 to 28 years old, told a rapt Centre County courtroom that he would befriend boys at events held by the Second Mile.
Some met Sandusky at a swimming pool, where Sandusky would play with boys, picking them up and tossing them around.
Many of those who testified were from broken homes, did not know their fathers, or were having trouble in school. They craved attention from a male figure, and they got it from Sandusky.
He took them to games, putting a hand on boys' knees as he drove there, they testified, and lavished some with gifts that included computers and golf clubs.
Victim 7, who was 11 when he first met Sandusky, testified that he had been groped on overnight visits to the coach's home and got a bear hug from him in a Penn State shower.
He said he never told anybody, partly because he was ashamed. But he also feared losing the perks of being with Sandusky.
"I didn't want my parents to keep me from going to games," said the man, now 23. "I wanted to block that stuff out and keep focusing on the positives."
Sandusky took the boys on outings and to restaurants. He got them access to Penn State football facilities and took them into his own home for overnight stays that sometimes led to alleged groping and sexual encounters, according to the testimony.
"He was like a father to me," said a 25-year-old man who spoke haltingly on the witness stand.
"I didn't want to get him in trouble, because I still wanted to hang out with him and go to the games," said the man, who alleged that Sandusky lathered him with soap and bearhugged him in a Penn State football shower.
The white-haired coach, 68, sat hunched over the defense table and stared at his accusers as they testified. He has pleaded not guilty to 52 counts of sexual abuse against 10 boys, and faces more than 500 years in prison if convicted.
The trial was set to resume Monday with defense witnesses.
One accuser did tell police about alleged abuse in 1998, but an investigation ended with no charges being filed. An investigator told Sandusky not to shower with boys again.
"ALL SO TYPICAL"
Curtis St. John, a spokesman for MaleSurvivor, a non-profit group that helps male victims of sexual assault, called Sandusky's alleged behavior a classic example of a predator winning over the trust of young boys.
"This is all so typical," he said. He added that discrepancies in victims' testimony stressed by defense attorney Joe Amendola, such as differing dates and the number of sexual encounters, were to be expected given the pressures the men were facing on the stand.
Some of the men said they were undergoing psychological counseling, and St. John said that with a good therapist, victims had excellent chances of healing.
Although five of the victims asked that they be allowed to testify under pseudonyms, Judge John Cleland ruled that they had to take the stand under their own names.
Despite the names being given, the men's identities seem to have been kept off the Internet. A Google search of five names turned up nothing in connection with the trial.
Like many news outlets, Reuters policy is not to identify victims of sexual crimes.
The charges against Sandusky rocked the Penn State community and prompted the firing of university President Graham Spanier and revered head football coach Joe Paterno.
Two former university officials also face charges of perjury and failure to report suspected abuse.
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