BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Former Pennsylvania State University football coach Jerry Sandusky was ordered to spend at least 30 years in prison on Tuesday for sexually abusing at-risk boys for more than a decade, a sentence likely to keep him behind bars until he dies.
Defiantly maintaining his innocence, the 68-year-old retired defensive coordinator listened as several victims recounted their pain to the packed courtroom. Then, he told the court: "I did not do these alleged disgusting acts."
Sandusky stood motionless in a red prison jumpsuit, his back to the audience and his wife, Dottie, while Judge John Cleland handed down the 30- to 60-year sentence for crimes that stunned the public, a major university and the world of college sports.
The one-time coach, who has been in solitary confinement, will be at least 98 years old before he is eligible for parole. He will be transferred to the Camp Hill State Correctional Institution for evaluation to determine which of the 25 state prisons will house him.
Because his conviction as a child molester makes him a target, he will likely be placed in isolation or protective custody. He will hold a job that pays 19 to 52 cents an hour, probably as a clerical worker, and be allowed five visits a month. Pennsylvania does not offer conjugal prison visits.
The sentence of 30 to 60 years "has the unmitigated impact of saying 'the rest of your life in prison,'" the judge said.
Sandusky was convicted in June on 45 counts of child sex abuse for molesting 10 boys over 15 years, some in the football team's showers on campus.
His victims accused him of fondling and oral and anal abuse. One recalled screaming in vain for help in the basement of Sandusky's home. Most experts said the sentence was fair.
"Your crime is not only what you did to their bodies, but your assault on their psyche and their souls," Cleland told Sandusky at the hearing in Centre County Court. "The tragedy of this story is it is a story of betrayal. Some of your victims had a genuine affection for you.
"It is precisely that ability to conceal those vices from yourself and everyone else that in my view makes you dangerous," he said.
The scandal shined a light on the devastating issue of child sexual abuse and raised pointed questions about the motivation of people who knew about Sandusky's behavior but failed for years to report a top coach vital to building Penn State's successful and lucrative football program.
Addressing the court, Sandusky said: "Others can take my life. They can make me out to be a monster.
"I tried to bring joy, I tried to make people laugh," he said of his work at The Second Mile charity he founded to help at-risk youth and where he was accused of recruiting victims.
Breaking into sobs as he talked about his family, he said: "We will continue to fight. There is much to fight."
Several men who testified at trial about their abuse returned to speak at the sentencing.
"I will never erase the images of his naked body on mine," said one. "He took away my childhood the day he assaulted me."
As they spoke, Sandusky sat back in his chair and stared at them, as he did at trial. His wife chewed gum as she watched.
Afterward, defense attorney Joseph Amendola said Dottie Sandusky was "devastated" by the sentence.
Sandusky faced a much longer possible sentence of hundreds of years, but the judge said: "I am not going to sentence you to centuries in prison even though the law allows me to do that."
Daniel Arshack, a veteran criminal defense attorney in New York, said he saw the sentence as justified.
"Could he have been sentenced to more? He could have been, but what's the point?" he said. "The only message that's sent by sentencing someone to jail for the rest of their life is that the court views his conduct as the most serious kind of conduct."
Sandusky's defense attorneys said they were preparing an appeal of his conviction and contend they were not given enough time to prepare for the high-profile case.
Amendola said he believes Sandusky was railroaded. He blamed tensions among Penn State faculty, trustees and the athletic department as well as a conspiracy by victims looking for money.
"What happened to Jerry Sandusky could happen to any one of us," he said.
The decision to cast a blind eye toward Sandusky has led to harsh consequences for Penn State. Its football program has been penalized; school officials face criminal charges; and the legacy of Joe Paterno, once a towering figure in college sports, has been deeply tarnished.
Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier were fired last year for failing to act on what they knew about Sandusky's behavior. Paterno died in January of lung cancer at age 85.
An investigation commissioned by Penn State trustees said university leaders knew about and covered up Sandusky's sexual abuse of children in order to protect the football program.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson released a statement saying he hoped the sentence would "provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events."
Additional reporting by Mark Shade; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Paul Thomasch and Jackie Frank