Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Prosecutors branded former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky a “systematic serial predator” at the start of his pedophilia trial on Monday, as one alleged victim told of being plied with gifts to lure him into sex.
The 68-year-old Sandusky, who stands accused of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year period, allegedly recruited his young victims under the guise of a program he ran for abused and neglected youth.
The case has shocked the United States, where many are obsessed by college sports and hold up their American football team’s coaches as demi-gods.
The headline-grabbing scandal also has tarnished the legacy of Pennsylvania State University, one of the country’s most illustrious college football programs.
Speaking publicly for the first time of his ordeal, one of the alleged victims, now in his 20s, told how Sandusky would initiate sexual activity in a locked shower room reserved for Penn State coaches by starting a soap battle.
“A lot of this started as playfighting, slapping. Once I’d pull away, you could tell that he could get angry,” said the man, whose story prosecutors said aligns closely with that of other accusers.
The victim said he met Sandusky when he was about 13 or 14, and was showered with gifts like golf clubs and a snowboard by the coach, who was once revered as a hero by fans.
He said he was promised a coveted spot on Penn State’s revered football team as a walk-on, but that he had often been teased at school by kids who saw the relationship as improper.
“He was nice to me other than those instances. He was a father figure to me. I didn’t want to lose that,” the victim said.
“Maybe, I’m getting picked on. But also, I feel cool. I’m hanging out with players. I don’t want to lose the nice things I’m getting. I don’t want to lose someone paying attention to me.”
But he added: “I feel that if I just said something back then, this wouldn’t have happened. So I feel responsible for other victims.”
He also alleged that at least once he was taken into the shower with one of Sandusky’s adopted sons. But when the coach filled his hand with soap, the other boy left with a “nervous” look on his face.
Prosecutors said Sandusky recruited his victims through his Second Mile charity, which went bankrupt last month after donations dried up in the wake of the scandal.
Sandusky, who defense attorneys said is expected to testify, faces 52 criminal counts of sexually abusing at least 10 boys between 1994 and 2008, with some of the alleged incidents taking place on campus.
The witness, now 28, named at least four Penn State coaches who walked in while the pair were showering, but said Sandusky immediately stopped abusing him whenever he heard the sound of someone approaching.
Sandusky made the boy sign a contract under which Sandusky would pay the victim $1,000 for meeting certain athletic and academic goals.
Prosecutors contended it was a contract designed to force the victim to spend more time with Sandusky.
Sandusky’s defense attorney Joseph Amendola invoked a line of questions that implied the contract was drawn up to help the victim better his life.
An employee of The Second Mile, Mark Hamilton McCann, told jurors that the contract, despite language on the paperwork to the contrary, was not an authorized program of the charity.
Amendola told the court that his client’s accusers were fabricating their allegations for a variety of reasons including troubled lives, money and because they mistook friendly overtures for sexual ones.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let me say to you, there are no victims in this case,” Amendola said, insisting on his client’s innocence.
The attorney said the physical contact Sandusky engaged in is a routine part of the locker room environment, where nakedness and high-spirited horseplay are not unusual.
“What you will hear from my defendant when he testifies, is that there was no sexual touching — there was fooling around in the shower,” Amendola said.
Prosecutor Joseph McGettigan told jurors Sandusky used post-workout showers as a pretext to get physically close to victims in order to sexually molest them, and that he abused the trust of the university as well as that of the now-defunct Second Mile charity.
He told the jury — seven women and five men — that investigators found lists belonging to the coach that showed the names of his victims marked with an asterisk.
The scandal led to the firing of Penn State’s longtime head football coach Joe Paterno, a national icon whose fall from grace came just a few weeks before his unexpected death from lung cancer in January at the age of 85.
The legendary coach was fired in November for failing to notify authorities when he was told Sandusky had been seen molesting a boy in the shower.