The highly watched trial of retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky began in Bellafonte, Pennsylvania, on Monday with emotional testimony from the prosecution’s first witness.
The witness, now 28, said that his relationship with Sandusky began when he met him through the Second Mile charity that Sandusky founded. The inappropriate behavior, he testified, began with “soap battles” and eventually involved oral sex, according to media reports.
“He would put his hand on my leg, basically like I was his girlfriend,” the witness told the court. “It freaked me out extremely bad.”
Sandusky, 68, is charged with 52 criminal counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. The allegations eventually led to the forced retirement of longtime coach Joe Paterno and firing of the university president Graham Spanier.
Paterno died shortly after of lung cancer.
The witness, named “Victim No. 4,” said Sandusky gave him trips to the Outback and Alamo Bowl Games, Penn State jerseys, golf clubs, drum sets and other gifts.
He said he was too scared to tell his grandmother about the abuse, according to reports, but became “sick” about what was happening once he got a girlfriend.
He also testified that Sandusky sent him inappropriate letters, one of which was briefly shown on a video screen.
“I know that I have made my share of mistakes,” one of the letters allegedly read. “However I hope that I will be able to say that I cared. There has been love in my heart.”
When he tried to resist one of Sandusky’s advances, the witness reportedly claimed, the former football coach asked, “You don’t want to go back (home) do you?”
Sandusky abruptly stopped that encounter, however, when his wife Dottie walked into the room, the witness claimed.
In their opening statements, prosecutors outlined eight alleged victims’ inappropriate relationships with Sandusky and showed photographs of them on a large screen, the New York Times reported, calling them victims of “systemized behavior by a serial abuser.”
Joseph Amendola, Sandusky’s lead defense lawyer, questioned the alleged victims’ motives in his opening statement. He claimed that they were seeking financial benefit and questioned why they took so long to step forward.
“This case comes down to perception and assumption,” Amendola said.
He also, according to reports, claimed that while Sandusky did shower with kids, it was normal under the circumstances.
“In Jerry’s culture, growing up in his generation, where he grew up, he’s going to tell you it was routine for individuals to get showers together,” Amendola argued. “I suspect for those of you who might have been involved in athletics, it’s routine.”
Sandusky reportedly sat quietly in the courtroom, occasionally looking at the screen or jury.