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Jerry Sandusky's defense doesn't refute charges, instead relies on character witnesses

BELLEFONTE, Pa. – Just after court had been adjourned for lunch Monday, Jerry Sandusky and a member of his legal team gathered in front of a defense table that held a series of boxes, including one labeled "Accusers/Alleged Victims File (5-10) Box No. 2 of 2."

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Jerry Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse following his child sexual-abuse trial. (Getty Images)

Sandusky wanted a file pulled that contained information on Victim No. 9, whose mother had just testified that when her now 18 year-old son turned 14 or 15, he started having "a lot of problems."

"He wasn't bad in school," she said. "He just didn't care."

That downward arc, Sandusky believed, coincided with the boy breaking off his interactions with Sandusky and the Second Mile charity.

"See," Sandusky said, pointing to some dates on the file, "that was after he was with me."

Sandusky clearly meant "with me" in a mentoring role and wasn't admitting an inappropriate relationship.

Still, he'd said enough, namely that Sandusky doesn't view the relationship as inappropriate at all. To Jerry Sandusky, the story of a troubled boy and indifferent student was a sign that his previous work had yielded positive results. If the kid hadn't broken away, maybe things would have been fine.

Sandusky closed the file, stuffed it into the oversized black three-ring binder he carries around and headed off, talking about getting a sandwich.

Yes, even after Victim No. 9 had wept on the witness stand last Thursday and detailed being forced into repeated acts of oral and anal sex by Sandusky. Even after he'd described screaming from Sandusky's basement in the hope someone would save him. Even after he conveyed general disgust at Sandusky expressing love for him – "It was creepy, I was a kid," he'd testified.

[Related: Dan Wetzel: Sandusky's best hope in trial is to testify]

Even after the boy's mother bawled on the witness stand and disclosed regret at not realizing what her son was going through. Even after the boy said he'd often bleed from the assaults and his mother testified she kept asking why he often returned from the Sandusky's without his underwear – "He'd tell me he'd have an accident in them and he threw them out."

Even after all of that, Jerry Sandusky was flipping through a file and basking in some notion that he'd been good for the boy all along.

Once the kid turned his back on him and Second Mile, that's when the trouble came.

This is the delusion Jerry Sandusky appears to still operate under and, based on his defense's seemingly ineffectual first day of presenting evidence, what the defense is trying to impart to the jury.

Sandusky seems to hold the carefree attitude that this is all just a misunderstanding, that he was always a kindhearted guy whose positive impact on troubled boys is being misconstrued, especially by his accusers.

If only people would see how much he helped, they'd never believe these tales of hurt, no matter how many kids the prosecution trots out to cry on the witness stand.

That's a fantasy of course. That isn't a viable defense.

Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, is facing 51 counts (the prosecution dropped one Monday) of sexually molesting children. On Monday, at the conclusion of the trial's fifth day, Judge John Cleland predicted to the jury that the defense would rest Wednesday, closing arguments would come Thursday and they should prepare to be sequestered during deliberations after that.

On Monday, the jury arrived rested after a long weekend, and the defense seized the opportunity with a resounding whimper.

Its first witness was former Penn State assistant coach Dick Anderson, who in a dry monotone described (and described and described) the considerable work requirements of coaching the Nittany Lions (CliffsNotes version: They have a lot of meetings).

The implication was that Sandusky had little free time to play racquetball and shower with boys while working under demanding head coach Joe Paterno. Perhaps, but he did have plenty of time for Second Mile, and even if true, since he retired in 1999 the too-busy defense would apply only to some of the alleged victims.

[Related: Neighbors of jurors in Sandusky trial don't support him, want justice]

More memorable was Anderson, and later fellow former assistant coach Booker Brooks, explaining they too had showered with young boys, either in the Penn State locker room or the local YMCA. Both clearly stated they'd never engaged in the kind of behavior Sandusky has admitted to, such as hugging, wrestling and soaping up the kids, sometimes in empty locker rooms late at night. Still, the testimony was memorable.

"At the YMCA, at Penn State, at other places," Anderson said of places he'd showered where boys were present. "The first time I took a shower in high school was with coaches; it was part of my life."

"You showered with young boys?" deputy attorney general Joseph E. McGettigan III asked Anderson on cross-examination.

"Oh, yes," Anderson said.

"Eleven year-olds?" McGettigan said.

"Oh, yes," Anderson said.

"Who you didn't know?" McGettigan said.

"Oh, yes," Anderson said. "I still do. There are regularly young boys at the YMCA showering at the same time there are older people showering."

"Do you hug him in the shower?" McGettigan said.

"No," Anderson said.

Brooks testified that he's taken his granddaughter, whose age wasn't specified, into the showers with him at the YMCA.

The testimony's impact on the case is likely minimal and it was explained in a reasonable and, you could certainly argue, innocent fashion by the coaches. Still, it may raise the obvious question of what exactly is going on with these Penn State football coaches?

The idea that the defense is going to convince the jury that it's routine for grown men to shower with boys they don't know is highly unlikely.

Even then, the other coaches were clear they'd never come close to crossing the lines Sandusky has admitted to, let alone the ones alleged. It's apples and oranges, so what was the point of their testimony in the first place?

Later, the defense called a parade of witnesses to speak on Sandusky's behalf.

There was the Army veteran who had positive memories of Second Mile. There was a co-worker at the charity that saw great acts from Sandusky. There was a local teacher impressed with Sandusky's dedication. There were the assistant coaches alluding to Sandusky's sterling reputation in the community. There was Anderson intimating that even the iconic Paterno held Sandusky in high regard.

All of this is fine but isn't the heart of the case.

There is no denying that Sandusky and Second Mile made a positive impact on many troubled youths or that prior to being the center of sexual molestation case most viewed the old coach as a good man or that the showers at the YMCA are open to all.

But what about all those other kids who said Sandusky molested them? Remember them?

This was a day of defense rooted in some imaginary world where secondary things matter, not the pertinent questions. Even then, the defense witnesses weren't even all that positive or glowing. There wasn't one whose passion toward Sandusky would likely cause the jury to think this must be some big misunderstanding.

Perhaps defense attorney Joe Amendola is saving his best for last. If so, the last better come soon. The brief schedule Judge Cleland laid out suggests Sandusky himself won't take the stand, since he alone would take up considerable time both in direct and cross-examination.

Monday was the defense's big chance to make an immediate impression, to jolt the jury into believing that the state's case is rickety, that there were compelling counter facts, that Sandusky's side could trot out powerful witnesses, too.

Instead it was some kind of strange ode to Jerry, strange ode to the normalcy of showering with boys, strange ode to the kind of delusion that makes Sandusky listen to a kid and his mom break down in terror on a witness stand and conclude that their problems didn't come until after they kicked Jerry Sandusky out of their lives.

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