BELLEFONTE, Pa. – Joyce Porter sits in a booth at the old downtown Diamond Deli, across the street from the Centre County Courthouse where her friend Jerry Sandusky is being tried on 52 counts of sexually molesting children.
She nibbles chicken salad on a croissant and uses a somewhat shocking analogy for why she maintains undying support for the most hated man in Pennsylvania, if not beyond.
"When everyone was persecuting Jesus, someone had to stand with him," Porter said.
It's worth noting that Porter didn't say Jerry Sandusky was Jesus, just that in her view the situation has similarities. Although she does hold the former Penn State defensive coordinator in the highest esteem.
"A saint," she said. "A wonderful guy."
Porter is part of a select group – the few, the proud, the ultra loyal. Each day of the Sandusky trial, a small cadre of family and friends huddle on the benches in the courtroom's right side, not far from Sandusky's defense table. It's usually just 6-10 people.
Considering the charges Sandusky faces, the seemingly endless parade of witnesses providing disturbing testimony against him and the appalling nature of his alleged acts, any support is more than one might expect.
Jerry Sandusky's wife, Dottie, and their adopted son aren't allowed in the courtroom because they are potential witnesses. So the rooting section is a handful of others, whoever is willing to sit with what is essentially the most scorned club in town.
This is what's left of Sandusky's inner circle. Porter, 64, and a friend of the Sanduskys for over four decades, figures there may be more, but acknowledges that publicly showing support is not easy.
"They are probably afraid to come," she said.
They hug Sandusky when he enters the courtroom in the morning. They chat up his attorney, Joe Amendola, during breaks. Some take notes. Others try to help the defense with research or odd jobs. A few report back to Dottie on developments, so she can avoid media coverage.
For a defendant and a legal team under siege, they appear to be a welcome refuge.
"How is everybody this morning," Amendola said to the group Wednesday. "Bright? Cheery?"
When he can, Sandusky walks over to share smiles and the occasional laugh.
"I give him a hug every day and tell him I love him," Porter said.
Most in the group avoid public comment. A few were willing to talk off the record or on background about Sandusky. Porter is different. She is unabashed in her support even though she knows how angry it makes people.
When a picture of her standing behind Sandusky after one legal proceeding appeared in the Altoona Mirror, she received outraged emails from family and friends.
"They were like, 'What were you doing there? I'm shocked,' " Porter said. "And I said, 'I've been his friend for 40 years. I'm not going to let that go. He just didn't do these things.' "
They met when the Sanduskys first moved to State College in 1969. Their children were the same age. She and Dottie became fast friends. Everyone grew up together. She came to find Jerry as generous, gregarious, caring, fun and loving.
There is nothing the deputy attorney general can say to change her mind.
"One of the things that make me feel like I do is in 1985, we had a little boy with Down syndrome," Porter said of Matt, one of her 14 children [nine natural, five adopted]. "Dottie and Jerry would take him over to their home. They were wonderful with him.
"… And my Matt just adores Jerry. You say to Matt, 'Who's the best?' and he says, 'Jerry!' "
Still, it isn't easy to sit in court each day and hear about dastardly act after dastardly act. There's some concern, but only because the whole picture, she says, isn't being presented.
"I think if you didn't know Jerry, you might think, 'Wow, there's eight of them,' " Porter said of the accusers. "If you know Jerry, there's no way. There are thousands of kids [he's helped through the Second Mile charity]. And he affects people. He's just wonderful with kids."
Some of that is undeniable. The Second Mile did great work for many. But how does anyone reconcile showering alone with children?
"Do you do sports?" Porter argued. "Guys always go in the shower."
Not with little boys.
"You ever go to the YMCA to go swimming?," she said. "The locker rooms are filled with all ages. Men and women, all walking around naked. It's no different."
No different than showering alone in an empty locker room late at night, playing "soap battles"?
"However long as the YMCA swimming pool is open there are all aged nude people in the locker room," she said. "And I think when you are a mother you realize boys are nudists. And I think football coaches, they're always hanging out."
She pauses, has a bite of her sandwich, a sip of iced tea and concedes it could be better.
"I mean, I think it looks bad for people that are prudes and in this day and age when you can't touch a kid," she said. "Jerry is a huggy, wonderful guy."
What about laying in bed with the kids?
"It's a sign of him being fatherly," she said. "Did your dad lay down with you when it was time to go to bed? I know my dad did with me.
"At nursery schools, if they are staying through the day, they rub their backs so they take a little nap. I mean we're turning into a bunch of no-touchers. But counselors will take your knee and rub your knee when they talk to you. It's supposed to make you more attentive."
On and on it goes. She has her reasons to dispute any and all evidence. No matter what you think of Sandusky, the totality of Porter's support is something to behold. This is the definition of loyalty.
She thinks the alleged victims are just out for money. She thinks they are disloyal considering everything Jerry tried to do for them through Second Mile. She thinks they embellished innocent acts. She can't figure out what witness Mike McQueary is thinking. She just knows that she doesn't believe anything he says.
Where much of the courtroom might see a credible witness, Porter says her natural instinct is jump and shout "liar!"
Porter expects Sandusky to be found not guilty and hasn't even bothered thinking about how he may have only a week or so more of freedom.
"I think doubts will be in the jurors' minds if they are keeping an open mind," she said.
Is there anything that can be presented at this trial that would convince her of Sandusky's guilt?
"Not unless he himself would say, 'I did this,' " Porter said.
He probably isn't going to say that, although he is expected to take the stand in his own defense next week. That's when the case, the Sandusky support crew, says, will spin around.
"One guy [in the group] said, 'It's a football game. This is only the first half. We haven't heard the defenses side yet,' " Porter said.
Lunch was winding down, the plates empty, the cups drained. The trial would soon start back up, another session in Courtroom No. 1.
Porter decided to get a cup of coffee from the Diamond Deli first, something to keep her alert as she listened to the coming testimony.
This was the last of the last of the loyal friends of Jerry Sandusky, prepping for another afternoon of unconditional support of a man they'll swear by, whether you like it or not, to the bitter, bitter end.
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