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BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A jury found former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 child sex abuse charges on Friday, ending a trial that rocked U.S. college football and renewed attention on pedophilia in America.
Sandusky, 68, faces potentially hundreds of years in prison for molesting 10 boys over 15 years. He was escorted immediately out of the courthouse in handcuffs and taken into an awaiting sheriff's cruiser.
A large crowd that gathered outside the Centre County Courthouse in central Pennsylvania broke into cheers upon learning of the news.
One of the victims who had testified burst into tears as the verdict was read. Sandusky, meanwhile, stood and faced the foreman and appeared expressionless, tucking his hands into his pockets.
His wife, Dottie, sitting behind him, showed no emotion.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly praised the eight victims, all now adults, who came forward to testify in the two-week trial that featured graphic sexual detail of Sandusky's abuse.
"Who would believe a kid?" Kelly said. "The answer is, ‘We here in Bellefonte, Pa., will believe a kid. ... A jury of 12 people in Bellefonte, Pa., most definitely would and did believe a kid."
She praised the victims for their courage to speak "not only to the jury and a packed courtroom ... but also the entire world."
Defense attorney Joe Amendola said he was examining the grounds for an appeal.
"They're devastated," Amendola said of Sandusky's relatives, "but they've been devastated ever since these charges came to light."
The decision came after 21 hours of deliberation over two days by a jury of seven women and five men. Nine of the 16 jurors and alternates had ties to Pennsylvania State University, and the final days of the trial drew large crowds to the courthouse in central Pennsylvania.
The case cast a pall over a university community known as Happy Valley and cost legendary head coach Joe Paterno his job after a half-century career in which he won more games than any major college coach. Paterno died of lung cancer two months later at age 85.
Sandusky, the defensive genius behind Paterno who helped give Penn State its nickname of Linebacker U, faced 48 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period, sometimes at Penn State facilities. The jury convicted him of 25 felonies and 20 misdemeanors.
The conviction came on the same day another landmark child sex abuse case was decided in Pennsylvania. A jury in Philadelphia found Monsignor William Lynn guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, making him the first senior U.S. Roman Catholic Church official to be convicted for covering up child sex abuse.
The Sandusky case tore at the Penn State community that revolves around a football program generating tens of millions of dollars in profit each year.
Former athletic director Tim Curley and former finance official Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failing to alert authorities to one act of sexual abuse by Sandusky. A trial date has not been set in that case.
A shocking new revelation hit shortly after jury deliberations began on Thursday when a lawyer for Matt Sandusky, the coach's adopted son, said Matt Sandusky had met with prosecutors to tell them he had been sexually abused by the former coach. Matt Sandusky, 33, was adopted after living with Sandusky and his wife Dottie as a foster child.
The Centre Country grand jury indictment of Sandusky on November 5 set off a firestorm that led Penn State trustees to fire university president Graham Spanier and Paterno, who was faulted for failing to more forcefully intervene when he learned of the accusations years earlier.
The November 9 firing was a humiliating way for Paterno to end his career, and it prompted student demonstrations in support of their beloved "JoePa."
"The community owes a measure of gratitude to the jurors for their diligent service," said a statement from the Paterno family. "Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims and their families.
A former Penn State assistant coach, Mike McQueary, told the jury he had seen Sandusky abusing a young boy in a football locker room in 2001. He reported the incident to Paterno and campus authorities but neither police nor child protection services were informed.
Prosecutors accuse Sandusky of abusing at least three more victims after that incident.
As the Sandusky shockwaves spread, sex abuse hotlines and lawyers saw a surge in calls and emails.
To defend himself against the media onslaught, Sandusky gave an interview to NBC in November that was a public relations disaster. He only haltingly denied he was sexually attracted to young boys and admitted to horseplay and showering with them.
Editing by Daniel Trotta, Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker