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Sequestered jury begins deliberating fate of Jerry Sandusky

June 21, 2012|By Michael Muskal

After dozens of witnesses and days of listening to often graphic and painful testimony, jurors began their deliberations in the highly publicized case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, accused of sexually abusing children for years.

The jury of seven woman and five men received the case Thursday afternoon. Sandusky had a distinguished sports career at Penn State, just a few miles down the road from the Bellefonte, Pa., courtroom where the case began with opening statements June 11. The criminal charges announced last year led to the dismissal of iconic football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier after trustees questioned how they investigated reports of abuse.

Sandusky faces 48 criminal charges alleging that he abused 10 boys connected to a charity he founded over 15 years. If convicted on all of the counts, he could be sentenced to hundreds of years in prison.

The former coach was originally charged with 52 counts, but Judge John Cleland dropped four charges, three on Thursday, before sending the jury out to deliberate.

PHOTOS: Who's who in the Sandusky case

Jurors, who will be sequestered during deliberations, earlier heard the last arguments from both sides.

The prosecution has portrayed Sandusky as a predatory pedophile, who groomed boys from the Second Mile charity with gifts and trips to football games, no small gesture in an area devoted to Penn State’s football program. More than half of the jurors during the selection process said they had some sort of tie to the university, either as former students or employees.

After the gifts, Sandusky escalated his relationship, in some cases fondling the boys, and in other cases, forcing them to commit a variety of sexual acts, the prosecution alleged. Some of the encounters took place in the basement of the Sandusky home in State College, Pa., and some in the showers of the locker room of the football training facility at Penn State, the prosecutors said.

Eight of the accusers took the stand last week and described their experiences in graphic detail. The identities of two of the alleged victims have never been ascertained. Adult witnesses testified about those cases.

In his closing remarks, senior deputy Atty. Gen. Joe McGettigan III asked the jurors to ignore what he called defense conspiracy theories and to concentrate on the boys who testified they were abused.

“What you should do is come out and say to the defendant that he molested and abused and give them back their souls,” McGettigan said, according to media reports from the courtroom. “I give them to you. Acknowledge and give them justice.”

But the defense drew a different portrait. Sandusky was a victim of accusers with a financial motive to lie about what happened because they are hoping for big pay days in civil suit judgments after the criminal trial. In addition, the investigation into Sandusky was seriously flawed because the legal system was convinced the former coach was guilty and in effect led the accusers.

“They went after him, and I submit to you they were going to get him hell or high water, even if they had to coach witnesses,” defense attorney Joseph Amendola said in his fiery closing.

There was no physical evidence of abuse, Amendola said, just the words of the accusers. “All he ever wanted to do was to help kids, from the time he was a kid,” Amendola said of Sandusky. “He helped thousands of kids.”

Throughout its presentation this week, the defense brought in witnesses who testified that Sandusky was a good person who was never seen abusing any children. The character witnesses were led by Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, who directly rebutted testimony from two of the accusers.

Sandusky did not take the stand -- but he was heard in court. A televised interview with sports journalist Bob Costas was played for jurors. In the interview, Sandusky acknowledged he had showered with boys, but denied doing anything improper.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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