BELLEFONTE, Pa. – Jerry Sandusky is the victim of overzealous investigators and accusers with financial motives who targeted the generous former Penn State assistant football coach, his attorney said in his closing argument Thursday at his client's child sex abuse trial.
Defense lawyer Joe Amendola repeatedly told the jury prosecutors' case "doesn't make sense" and they must acquit his client on the sex abuse charges that led to the firing of beloved head coach Joe Paterno.
Amendola laid the blame for the allegations at the feet of state police investigators who he said coached the alleged victims into giving accusatory statements.
"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," Amendola said in an emotional, sometimes angry closing statement.
Sandusky faces 48 criminal counts involving the abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year span. Prosecutors have called him a predator who used gifts and the draw of Penn State football to target boys with unstable family lives for sexual abuse.
His arrest in November sparked an explosive scandal that led to the firing of Paterno and the departure of the university president, and cast a critical eye on the role of college administrators in reporting abuse allegations. The sweeping case also led to renewed focus on child abuse issues.
The jury heard from eight alleged victims — now ages 18 to 28 — who said Sandusky abused them. Their accounts said the sexual contact ranged from kissing to fondling to showering together to forced oral and anal sex.
Amendola noted that prosecutors didn't produce victims in two other instances. They instead relied on testimony from a university janitor and then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, whose account of a sexual encounter between Sandusky and a boy of about 10 ultimately led to Paterno's dismissal.
He also stressed that prosecutors had no physical evidence of abuse.
Amendola the jurors there would be no winners in the case. Even if Sandusky is acquitted, his life has already been destroyed, as have the reputations of many, including Paterno, Amendola said.
"All he ever wanted to do was to help kids from the time he was a kid," Amendola said. "He helped thousands of kids."
Amendola tried to cast doubt on the accounts given by the accusers by painting them as having financial motives or otherwise tainted by investigatory over-reaching.
Witnesses — some of whom knew each other — changed their stories over the course of their interviews, Amendola said.
"The police kept going back, kept questioning them, saying, 'There's more to this. We don't think you're telling us the truth,'" he said.
Amendola also said Sandusky's alleged offenses didn't make sense when viewed along with the rest of the alleged victims' testimony: Their accounts of frequent visits to Sandusky's home and trips to football games and other activities.
"Folks you have to use your common sense," Amendola said. "Jerry Sandusky took these kids everywhere. Is that what a pedophile does ... does he parade these kids around?"
Prosecutors were to present their closing argument later Thursday, and the jury was expected to begin deliberating by the afternoon.
Cleland began Thursday's court session by instructing the 12 jurors and three alternates.
He explained that just the "mere suspicion of guilt" is not enough to arrive at a guilty verdict.
"You may believe he exercised poor judgment, but poor judgment in itself does not warrant criminality," he said. He also said that it is "not necessarily a crime to shower with a boy, lather with soap, engage in back rubbing."
Jurors will have to decide whether the defense was able to create sufficient doubt based on how the investigation was conducted, the reliability and motives of the accusers, and Sandusky's decades-long reputation as a man who worked tirelessly to help underprivileged children.
Many of the 28 defense witnesses testified briefly to vouch for Sandusky's reputation. The defense's case has consisted of character witnesses who defended Sandusky's reputation, a psychologist who said Sandusky had a personality disorder and the ex-coach's wife, who said she did not see her husband do anything inappropriate with the accusers.