By Mark Scolforo
BELLEFONTE, Pa. — In what sounded at times like a locker room pep talk, Jerry Sandusky rambled in his red prison suit about being the underdog in the fourth quarter, about forgiveness, about dogs and about the movie “Seabiscuit.”
With his accusers seated behind him in the courtroom, he denied committing “disgusting acts” against children and instead painted himself as the victim.
And then, after he had said his piece, a judge sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison Tuesday, all but ensuring the 68-year-old Sandusky will spend the rest of his life behind bars for the child sexual abuse scandal that brought disgrace to Penn State and triggered the downfall of his former boss, football coach Joe Paterno.
He leaves behind a trail of human and legal wreckage that could take years for the university to clear away.
“The tragedy of this crime is that it’s a story of betrayal. The most obvious aspect is your betrayal of ten children,” Judge John Cleland said after a hearing in which three of the men Sandusky was convicted of molesting as boys confronted him face to face and told of the lasting pain he had inflicted.
The judge said he expects Sandusky to die in prison.
In a disjointed, 15-minute address before he learned his sentence, Sandusky said: “In my heart I did not do these alleged disgusting acts.”
Sprinkling his remarks with sports references, the former assistant coach spoke of being locked up in a jail cell, subjected to outbursts from fellow inmates, reading inspirational books and trying to find a purpose in his fate. His voice cracked as he talked about missing his loved ones, including his wife, Dottie, who was in the gallery.
“Hopefully we can get better as a result of our hardship and suffering, that somehow, some way, something good will come out of this,” Sandusky said.
He also spoke of instances in which he helped children and did good works in the community, adding: “I’ve forgiven, I’ve been forgiven. I’ve comforted others, I’ve been comforted. I’ve been kissed by dogs, I’ve been bit by dogs. I’ve conformed, I’ve also been different. I’ve been me. I’ve been loved, I’ve been hated.”
Sandusky was convicted in June of 45 counts, found guilty of raping or fondling boys he had met through the acclaimed youth charity he founded, The Second Mile. He plans to appeal, arguing among other things that his defense was not given enough time to prepare for trial after his arrest last November.
Among the victims who spoke in court Tuesday was a young man who said he was 11 when Sandusky groped him in a shower in 1998.
He said Sandusky is in denial and should “stop coming up with excuses.”
“I’ve been left with deep painful wounds that you caused and had been buried in the garden of my heart for many years,” he said.
Another man said he was 13 in 2001 when Sandusky lured him into a Penn State sauna and then a shower and forced him to touch the ex-coach. “I am troubled with flashbacks of his naked body, something that will never be erased from my memory,” he said.
After the sentencing, prosecutor Joe McGettigan praised the victims’ courage and dismissed Sandusky’s comments as “a masterpiece of banal self-delusion, completely untethered from reality and without any acceptance of responsibility.”
“It was entirely self-focused as if he, again, were the victim,” McGettigan said.
Lawyers for the victims said they were satisfied with the sentence, but with four lawsuits brought against Penn State and several more expected, and Penn State laboring under severe NCAA penalties, cleaning up in the wake of what may be the biggest scandal in college sports history may take years.
Ben Andreozzi, an attorney for one the victims, said the university needs to do more: “It’s important they understand before we get into serious discussions about money, that there are other, noneconomic issues. We need apologies. We need changes in policy. This isn’t just about money.”
Penn State fired Paterno after Sandusky’s arrest, and the coach died of lung cancer three months later.
The scandal also brought down university President Graham Spanier.
Two university administrators, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, are awaiting trial in January on charges they failed to properly report suspicions about Sandusky and lied to the grand jury that investigated him.
Over the summer, an investigation commissioned by Penn State and led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh concluded that Paterno and other top officials covered up allegations against Sandusky for more than a decade to avoid bad publicity.
After the report came out, the NCAA fined Penn State a record $60 million, barred the football team from postseason play for four years, cut the number of scholarships it can award, and erased 14 years of victories for Paterno, stripping him of his standing as the winningest coach in the history of big-time college football.
In a three-minute recorded statement aired Monday night by Penn State radio, Sandusky described himself as the victim of a “well-orchestrated effort” by his accusers, the media, Penn State, plaintiffs’ attorneys and others — a claim the judge dismissed on Tuesday as an unbelievable conspiracy theory.
“I speak today with hope in my heart for a brighter day, not knowing if that day will come,” Sandusky said. “Many moments have been spent looking for a purpose. Maybe it will help others, some vulnerable children who might have been abused, might not be, as a result of the publicity.”
After the sentencing, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement: “While today’s sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it will provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events.”