BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Jerry Sandusky believes he is the victim of a grand conspiracy. At his sentencing hearing here Tuesday for numerous convictions of child molestation, Sandusky gave a rallying speech, the type he might have once presented during halftime of an especially tough Penn State football game.
Sandusky, speaking for more than 10 minutes, remembered the days of water balloon fights and hoisting kids up into the air, but he also reflected on his darkest hours, stuck in a small cell, locked away from his wife, children and pet dog.
“When I look at those walls, I see the light,” said Sandusky, 68, who was convicted in June on 45 counts of sexually abusing 10 young boys. “I love people who won’t quit. I love ordinary people who overcome. I
Though Sandusky has maintained his innocence and argued publicly that he was targeted by a “veteran accuser” who conspired against him, Judge John Cleland on Tuesday ordered the former Penn State University assistant football coach to spend at least 30 years in prison.
“That has the unmistakable impact of saying, clearly, for the rest of your life,” Cleland told Sandusky just after 10 a.m., in handing down a sentence that could range from 30 to 60 years. “You abused the trust of those who trusted you. … The crime is not only what you did to their bodies, but your assault to their psyches and souls.”
Sandusky briefly looked down as the sentence was announced. After court recessed, he spoke with his attorney, smiling broadly and laughing. The former coach, dressed in a bright red jumpsuit, was then led away by officers.
The sentencing took less than 90 minutes, but it provided another step toward closure for Sandusky’s victims and for a community that has been stunned by one of the most devastating, high-profile abuse scandals to hit higher education.
“We all have a sense of relief that Jerry Sandusky is going to die in prison, that he’s not going to be able to do this again,” said Matt Casey, a Philadelphia attorney whose firm represents four of the victims who testified at Sandusky’s trial in June and one of Sandusky’s adopted sons, who came forward during the trial.
Eight victims testified against Sandusky at his trial. Two other victims have never been identified, but jurors heard from those who witnessed or heard about their abuse. Each victim spoke emotionally about how Sandusky won their trust and then slowly became more physical. Some wept, and others became frustrated with the questioning from defense lawyers.
Several of the victims said they lacked a father figure while growing up and that Sandusky made them feel special, taking them to football games and introducing them to players for the storied program. The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sex crimes.
The abuse spanned more than a decade, according to trial testimony, and occurred in hotel rooms before football games, during trips to bowl games, in university lockerroom showers and in a bedroom in Sandusky’s basement. Some of Penn State’s most powerful leaders, including the late Joe Paterno, the legendary former head football coach, have been accused of knowing about the abuse and not taking enough action to stop it.
On June 22, after two days of deliberations, the jury found Sandusky guilty of 45 of the 48 charges against him, which included several counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Sandusky’s bail was immediately revoked, and he has been jailed since.
At the sentencing hearing Tuesday, prosecutors read statements from another victim and the mother of a victim. Three victims also took the stand, all three struggling to speak at times.
One victim looked directly at Sandusky and said: “I don’t forgive you, and I don’t know if I ever will forgive you. I grew up in a bad situation, and you only made it worse.”
Cleland, the judge, spoke directly to the victims and others as he delivered the sentence: “The fact you were assaulted is no cause for embarrassment or shame. . . It is for your courage, and not for your assault, for which you will be remembered.”
Since his arrest nearly a year ago, Sandusky has maintained his innocence - even as Penn State wiped its campus clean of his name, even as his supporters dwindled, even as eight victims emotionally testified against him and his adopted son went public with accusations of abuse, even as the guilty verdicts were read, even as he sat in a county jail for more than three months awaiting sentencing.
“They could take away my life, they could make me out as a monster, they could treat me as a monster, but they can’t take away my heart. In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts,” Sandusky said in a statement given to a Penn State student radio station, ComRadio, and broadcast Monday evening. Sandusky’s lead attorney has reportedly verified the authenticity of the statement to the local media.
Sandusky provided this version of events in the statement: “A young man who was dramatic, a veteran accuser, and always sought attention, started everything. He was joined by a well-orchestrated effort of the media, investigators, the system, Penn State, psychologists, civil attorneys and other accusers. They won.”
The idea of a conspiracy is one that Sandusky’s attorney, Joe Amendola, tried to convey to jurors during the trial. Amendola challenged the credibility of the victims, pointing out inconsistencies in their accounts, exposing problems in their pasts and questioning their motives.
The ramifications of Sandusky’s actions are far-reaching. Investigators hired by Penn State concluded that some of the university’s most powerful leaders failed to protect children from being abused by Sandusky. The NCAA issued a slew of unprecedented sanctions, including a $60 million fine that will be used to support victims of sexual assault.
Two Penn State officials, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, have been charged with perjury and failure to report child abuse. Their trial is scheduled for January.
Days after Sandusky’s arrest, Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier lost their jobs, along with their sterling reputations. This summer, the university removed an iconic statue of Paterno that stood outside the football stadium.
Soon after Sandusky was convicted, Penn State released a statement saying it planned to “privately, expeditiously and fairly” address the concerns of Sandusky’s victims and compensate them.