Opening Statements Paint Two Pictures Of Sandusky

Opening statements began today in the trial of Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach accused of molesting children. Prosecutors portrayed Sandusky as a "serial pedophile" while the defense portrayed him as a victim. Joel Rose talks to Audie Cornish about the trial.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block. And this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News.

CORNISH: The child sex-abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky began today in Pennsylvania. The former Penn State assistant football coach faces more than 50 counts of sexually abusing 10 young boys. He denies the charges. Lawyers painted two sharply conflicted portraits of Sandusky, in opening statements today.

NPR's Joel Rose was in the courtroom in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and joins me now. Hello, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So, to start, how did prosecutors introduce the case to the jury?

ROSE: Prosecutors described Jerry Sandusky more than once as a serial predator; as a man who identified his young victims through the charity that he founded to help at-risk kids. And prosecutors say that he carefully groomed his alleged victims, and gave them gifts and presents, before sexually abusing them and - in some cases, for years.

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the prosecution's opening statement was when the deputy attorney general, Joseph McGettigan, showed the jury pictures of eight of the alleged victims as young boys, along with their first names. And until now, we only knew of them as victim number one and victim number three, and so on.

McGettigan apologized to the jury in advance for having to describe the graphic details of the alleged sexual encounters with Sandusky. But then, he did describe some of those details for several of the alleged victims. And that's likely to be a small preview of what's coming up in the days and weeks ahead.

CORNISH: From the beginning, Jerry Sandusky has said that he is innocent of the charges against him. How did his attorney respond in his opening statement?

ROSE: Well, defense attorney Joseph Amendola admitted from the beginning that the task before him is daunting. The defense strategy seems to be to portray Sandusky as someone who is a little odd, maybe, but essentially, harmless. Sandusky has admitted that he showered with young boys. But Amendola told the jury that Sandusky did not sexually abuse any of his accusers.

And then, Amendola did something he is likely to do a lot in this trial - and that is attack, the credibility of the witnesses. He raised questions about the truthfulness of Sandusky's accusers, as he called them. And he asked the jurors to think about why it took the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so long to arrest Sandusky, when all of the alleged incidents happened in 2008 or earlier. I think Amendola is trying to suggest here that there's a conspiracy to attack Jerry Sandusky and that he is, in fact, the real victim.

CORNISH: What else has the jury heard, so far?

ROSE: Well, after opening statements, the prosecution called its first witness, who was identified by prosecutors as victim number four. The young man is now 27. And he testified that when he was 12, he was befriended by Jerry Sandusky, who gave him sideline passes to Penn State football games and then later, forced him into having oral sex. Victim number four also testified that Sandusky sent him a series of handwritten notes, some of which seemed to the witness like creepy love letters.

CORNISH: Is there any sense of what the defense's reaction is going to be?

ROSE: Well, the defense seems to be anticipating that these letters - these love letters, if you will - would be introduced as evidence. And the defense filed a couple of motions today, including one asking permission to call a psychologist in order to testify about histrionic personality disorder. And prosecutors suggest that these letters show Sandusky was grooming his alleged victims.

Defense lawyers may want to put a psychologist on the stand in order to offer an alternative explanation, one that maybe Sandusky was seeking a relationship with these boys that was inappropriate, but was not sexual.

CORNISH: So Joel, how is this all playing in Bellefonte, and in the larger community around Penn State?

ROSE: Well, Penn State is a really big deal here. It is a huge employer in a county that doesn't have a whole lot else going for it, economically. And it seems like almost everybody here either works at Penn State or has gone to school there, or else knows somebody who has. And these towns aren't all that big. So a relatively high percentage of people may have personal connections; either to somebody who's on the jury, or to one of the alleged victims or their families, or to the Second Mile Charity, which was the charity that Sandusky founded. So I think for a lot of reasons, people here are watching this case very closely.

CORNISH: So Joel, what's the next step in this case?

ROSE: There are going to be several weeks of testimony, as Sandusky's alleged victims take the stand one by one - that's already under way today. And there will be, also, at least one independent witness - probably Mike McQueary - who claims that when he was a graduate assistant at Penn State, he saw Jerry Sandusky sexually assault a young boy in the showers there.

And then the defense will also present a case. We can expect some character witnesses for Jerry Sandusky, for the defense. And of course, Sandusky himself may - or may not - end up taking the stand.

CORNISH: Joel, thank you for speaking with us.

ROSE: Anytime.

CORNISH: NPR's Joel Rose, speaking with us from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

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