BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The prosecution branded former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky a "predatory pedophile" at the start of his child sex abuse trial on Monday, saying his young victims remained silent only out of fear and shame.
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Jurors heard opening statements from the prosecution and defense in a trial closely watched in the United States. Defense lawyer Joe Amendola told the seven women and five men of the jury that Sandusky, 68, was a naive man filled with love and affection for young people.
"Jerry Sandusky, in my opinion, loves kids so much he does things that none of us would ever think of doing," Amendola said.
In a flurry of motions filed on Monday, another defense lawyer, Karl Rominger, said he would likely call an expert witness to explain that a psychological problem suffered by Sandusky, known as histrionic personality disorder, led him to write "love letters" to his alleged victims even though he was not trying to lure them into sex.
Sandusky faces 52 counts of sexual abuse against 10 boys. Prosecutors allege Sandusky had physical contact with the boys, known in court documents as Victims 1 to 10, that ranged from tickling and a "soap battle" in Penn State showers to oral and anal sex.
If convicted, the former Pennsylvania State University football defensive coordinator could be sentenced to more than 500 years in prison.
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Eight young men are prepared to testify in Centre County Court in Pennsylvania about how Sandusky befriended and sexually abused the boys over a 15-year period, according to prosecutors. The men, now aged 18 to 28, will be identified publicly for the first time in court.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Joseph McGettigan III called Sandusky a "predatory pedophile" and urged the jury to listen to his alleged victims in the case, now men, as though they were children.
"You will be hearing the voices of young men, but I ask you to bring insight ... of how children react to things," McGettigan said.
McGettigan added that he would press the witnesses for details in the lurid case only because the jurors' needed to hear them. "I must ask, and they must answer," McGettigan said.
PICTURES OF VICTIMS
Putting up pictures of eight of the 10 alleged victims on a courtroom screen, while occasionally jabbing a finger toward Sandusky, McGettigan told jurors that eight had remained silent until now out of humiliation, fear and shame.
As the prosecutor spoke, Sandusky sat silently, hunched forward with his back to the packed courtroom, as ceiling fans whirled overhead.
ABC News reported last week on notes written by Sandusky to one of his alleged victims, and Rominger said he believed the prosecution planned to use them to show that Sandusky was grooming his victims for abuse.
"The goal of a person suffering this (histrionic personality) disorder in writing those letters would not necessarily be to groom or sexually consummate a relationship in a criminal manner, but rather to satisfy the needs of a psyche belabored by the needs of the disorder," Rominger said in the motion.
Amendola called his task of defending Sandusky a difficult one, given the resources of the state and a "tidal wave" of negative publicity about the case.
"This is a daunting task. This is like looking up at Mount Everest from the bottom of the hill, it's like David and Goliath," he told jurors.
Amendola suggested Sandusky could take the witness stand, telling jurors that the former coach would tell them about his youth and how taking showers with other people had been common for people of his generation growing up in Washington, Pennsylvania.
Amendola also hinted that the accusers could be out for money, saying that six of the eight identified accusers had taken the step of hiring civil attorneys.
Sandusky has laid out a potential defense, saying in an NBC television interview in November that he engaged in horseplay with alleged victims but stopped short of sexual intercourse or penetration.
The abuse charges shook the university and prompted the firing of revered football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier in November 2011.
Sandusky is accused of using the Second Mile, a charity he founded in 1977, to prey on needy young boys. The charity said last month it was closing because contributions had dried up.
The allegations brought an ignominious end to the career of Paterno, who recorded more wins in major college football than any other coach. He died of lung cancer in January, about two months after being fired.
The charges also marked a watershed in awareness of child sexual abuse. Sandusky was a well-respected children's champion and coach in college football.
The trial has brought a flood of media to Bellefonte, a town of 6,200 people about 10 miles northeast of State College, the location of Penn State's main campus. The lawn and side streets around the courthouse were filled on Monday with reporters, cameras, news vans and tents.
(Additional reporting by Matt Morgan in Bellefonte and Mark Shade; Editing by Tom Brown and Will Dunham)