BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The prosecution branded former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky a "predatory pedophile" in opening statements on Monday in his child sex abuse trial, saying that his young victims remained silent only out of fear and shame.
In the defense's opening statement in a trial closely watched in the United States, Sandusky's attorney 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.
Sandusky faces 52 counts of sexual abuse against 10 boys. If convicted, the former Pennsylvania State University football defensive coordinator could be sentenced to more than 500 years in prison.
Eight young men are prepared to testify in Centre County Court in Pennsylvania about how Sandusky befriended and sexually abused them as 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.
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.
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.
'A DAUNTING TASK'
"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 retaining civil attorneys.
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.
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.
Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center, said Amendola would try to attack the accusers' credibility but would face a tough task.
The long gap between the alleged abuses and reporting them "only adds to their credibility," said Vieth, a former Minnesota prosecutor. "This is not a fun day for them. Who wants to talk about having anal intercourse with a much older man?"
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. His widow Sue and son Jay may be called as witnesses for Sandusky.
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.
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.
Amendola has said one of his tactics will be to "destroy" the credibility of former graduate football assistant Mike McQueary and thus raise questions about all the witnesses and victims.
McQueary, a key witness, told prosecutors he saw Sandusky assaulting a boy known as Victim 2 in February 2001 in a Penn State locker room. Victim 2 and another boy, Victim 8, have not been found.
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.
Eight of the 12 jurors, who were picked last week, have ties to Penn State, the largest employer in the area of small towns and farms. But legal and jury experts said familiarity is no guarantee of sympathy for Sandusky and may hurt him if they blame him for tarnishing the university's image.
(Additional reporting by Matt Morgan in Bellefonte; Editing by Tom Brown and Will Dunham)