(Note: explicit sexual content)
By Ian Simpson and Matt Morgan
BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Lawyers for Jerry Sandusky kicked off their side of the high-profile sex abuse trial with testimony from two former assistant football coaches who told jurors it was not unusual for grown men to shower with boys in the Penn State locker rooms.
Richard Anderson, who served on the school’s coaching staff over two different periods for more than 20 years before retiring at the end of last season, told the jury on Monday he had witnessed Sandusky in the Pennsylvania State University showers with children, but never saw anything inappropriate.
He testified that he, too, would shower with children.
Sandusky, 68, the former defensive coordinator for Pennsylvania State University’s successful football program, faces more than 50 counts of abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period, allegations that focused U.S. national attention on the issue of child sexual abuse and rocked the college sports world.
Judge John Cleland said on Monday the jury would be sequestered during deliberations and he expected closing arguments in the fast-paced trial to take place on Thursday.
Over several days of testimony, prosecutors sought to show Sandusky is a serial sexual predator who targeted boys through the Second Mile charity he founded in 1977 for underprivileged children. If convicted on all counts, Sandusky faces a sentence of more than 500 years in prison.
Accounts from the witnesses, now aged 18 to 28, of being victimized as young boys by a much older man, including oral sex and shared showers, at times brought them and jurors to tears.
The case prompted the firing last year of the university’s president, Graham Spanier, and head football coach Joe Paterno, record-holder for most wins by a major U.S. college football coach. Paterno died of lung cancer in January at age 85.
Sandusky’s lawyers, in kicking off their case, called on Anderson and another former coach, Booker Brooks, to offer a more favorable assessment of the defendant’s character.
Brooks, the other assistant, told jurors he has also showered with younger children at many points in his life, and said it would be common practice at places like a local YMCA. He said he considers Sandusky “a great guy.”
Sandusky’s lawyers took the lead in the trial after days of often emotional testimony by alleged victims of abuse. Earlier Monday, the final prosecution witness testified that her son, who has told jurors he was raped, was often missing his underwear when he returned from visits with Sandusky.
She said Sandusky would often give the boy gifts such as sneakers and athletic clothing. “I wish he would have just given him some underwear to replace the underwear I could never find in his laundry,” she said.
In her testimony on Monday, the accuser’s mother said she never asked what happened to her son, now age 18 and known as Victim 9 in court papers, and still does not know because she knew it would be tough for him to tell her.
She said her son would stay over at Sandusky’s house two or three weekends a month for the majority of the year and Sandusky would directly ask him if he wanted to come over, without speaking with his mother first.
When she noticed her son was missing his underwear when he returned from the trips, the boy would tell her he had an accident and threw them out.
Her son told jurors in testimony last week that Sandusky had raped him and forced him to perform oral sex.
Sandusky’s defense had hoped to have a number of the charges against their client thrown out before they began calling their witnesses.
Among other arguments, the defense said charges relating to two alleged victims, identified in court papers as Victims 2 and 8, should be dismissed because no evidence has been entered that would prove their ages when they would have been molested.
The judge, however, rejected the motions.
The defense has previously said it could call dozens of witnesses, including Sandusky’s wife Dottie and other family members, as well as Paterno’s widow Sue and son Jay.
Lead defense attorney Joe Amendola has argued that the accusers are out for money and in cross examination last week asked them whether they had hired attorneys to pursue civil action against his client.
Amendola has said Sandusky might have acted inappropriately but is not a molester. He has also said Sandusky will testify.
One of the defense witnesses called on Monday, political campaign strategist David Pasquinelli, testified he had worked with Sandusky on a $7 million fundraising campaign for the Second Mile from October 2007 to spring 2009.
The two had almost daily contact with each other and made 15 to 20 trips by car together throughout Pennsylvania as part of the campaign, he said.
Asked by Amendola to characterize the interaction he saw between Sandusky and children, he said: “I saw a lot of goofing around. Jerry had a very unique way, and many of us were inspired by this, to relate to youth” on several levels.
He called Sandusky “a local hero.”
Editing by Paul Thomasch and Todd Eastham