BELLEFONTE, Pa. – The images of the young boys, one smiling headshot after the next, flashed across the large video screen inside the Centre County courthouse, directly across from the jurors' box.
On the first morning of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual molestation trial Monday, faces were given to the horrific allegations that rocked this region and Penn State University, where Sandusky was a defensive coordinator for the powerful football program.
And the defense unveiled its own opener shocker, saying Sandusky will take the witness stand. In an unexpected and aggressive move, attorney Joe Amendola said Sandusky will explain himself directly to the jury. That decision came as a surprise to prosecutors, who expected to hear Sandusky's words only through the testimony of alleged victims.
The most captivating scene in the morning session, though, was the photos of the alleged victims.
"Until now," state prosecutor Joseph E. McGettigan III said to the 12 jurors, "you've heard of them as Victim No. 1, Victim No. 2, Victim No. 3. But they are real people. They have real experiences."
With each photo, McGettigan said the boys' names, personalizing each alleged victim. (Yahoo! Sports will not publish the names of the alleged victims.)
The pictures were from the era that they were in contact with Sandusky. They had soft faces and missing teeth and cheap haircuts. They were the faces of youth, the ideal of innocence. Except that they had Sandusky looming around them, sometimes literally.
"That's the defendant's arm on [his] shoulder," McGettigan said of one snapshot, where Sandusky was cropped out.
"The defendant is right behind [him]," McGettigan said of another.
With each photo, Sandusky, seated at the defendant's table, turned his head, stared at the screen and offered no visible reaction. He is charged with 52 counts involving the molestation of 10 boys over a 15-year period. He has maintained his innocence.
McGettigan laid out the state's case with a strong, personalized and powerful opening statement. He paced in front of the jury box speaking in a slow, low tone. He promised physical evidence, witnesses (including former assistant coach Mike McQueary) and unmitigated proof that Sandusky was a "serial, predatory pedophile."
Even Amendola acknowledged in his opening statement the challenge of fighting the charges, equating it to climbing Mt. Everest. He pleaded for patience.
"This is a daunting task, the state has overwhelming evidence against Mr. Sandsuky," Amendola said. "A tidal wave of media coverage, so many accusers. I just don't know [what to say] …
"One of the keys to this case is to keep an open mind. What you are going to hear originally is going to be very, very easy to say, 'I've heard enough, I don't want to hear it. This is awful.' "
Amendola promised to poke holes in the credibility of the evidence and took particular focus on McQueary, the prosecution's star witness who alleges he saw Sandusky with a boy in the Penn State locker room showers.
"Mike McQueary will tell you," the prosecution promised, "he saw the defendant in the shower, hands up against a wall, [a boy in front of him] hands up against the wall, skin to skin contact, his front [to] the little boy's back, moving back and forth."
That was the start of what will be many days of graphic, disturbing testimony. So graphic and disturbing that McGettigan asked jurors to forgive him in advance for what's to come. The now-grown alleged victims will testify about intimate details of each encounter.
"I'm going to have to press them for those details because you have to hear them," he said.
McGettigan never stopped trying to humanize this case, however. With each snapshot on the screen he turned up the pressure, offering a brief bio of the alleged victims' lives and often describing their physical size (always small and slight) and the stomach-churning testimony the jury would soon hear.
"[He] performed oral sex on the defendant … [Sandusky] took him home, took him downstairs and had oral sex performed on him by [one boy] … [he] was 13 when a two-year period of victimization began …"
This was McGettigan trying to take a case that received overwhelming media attention, caused the firing of iconic Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and subjected an entire community to national scorn, and bring it back to a bunch of little boys.
And back on Jerry Sandusky.
"Pennsylvania State University is not on trial," McGettigan said. "The Second Mile [charity that Sandusky founded] is not on trial."
Amendola tried to minimize the charges and paint Sandusky as a good-hearted man dedicated from an early age to helping troubled youth. He may have made mistakes in judgment, such as showering with boys after workouts, but did not commit a crime.
"He loves kids so much that he does things that none of us would ever think to do," Amendola said. "Jerry wanted these kids to succeed. The kids with the most problems are the ones that Jerry paid the most attention to."
Amendola noted that many of the alleged victims maintained relationships with him into adulthood (something prosecutors said was immaterial).
He went particularly hard after McQueary, setting up inconsistencies in his story and noting that many of the prosecution witnesses are relying on what he later thought he saw, not what he actually did.
"What we think is he saw something and made an assumption," Amendola said. "It's common for people to see an event and assume … He went in the shower and saw Jerry Sandusky with a young person who was also in the shower. He assumed there was a sexual act. He didn't see a sexual act. He didn't see penetration. He assumed."
Amendola even tried to downplay the practice of a grown man showering with young boys.
"Those of you who have been in athletics, it's routine that after a workout you have a shower," Amendola said. "What Jerry would do is shower with them. That's not a crime."
Amendola said Sandusky was investigated four times and that many of the accusers repeatedly denied anything had ever happened.
"The government came back because they didn't get the answer they wanted to hear," Amendola said.
McGettigan countered by flashing a series of words on his video screen to explain why young boys are often so reluctant to come forward after abuse.
Humiliation. Shame. Fear.
"Those things are equal to silence," McGettigan said. "Years of silence."
Starting Monday afternoon, the silence will be broken; the first witness will take the stand about 1 p.m. ET.
First came the faces and the names. Next comes the direct testimony, voices from the past, right in front of the jury, right there in open court, right back at Jerry Sandusky, who now must climb Mt. Everest to save his freedom.
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