BELLEFONTE, Pa. – Jerry Sandusky wore bright red jail garb on Tuesday, looking like a quarterback in practice, untouchable and protected.
Except Sandusky was about to get hit, a 30- to 60-year sentence coming from Judge John Cleland here at the Centre County Courthouse stemming from 45 guilty counts of sexual molestation. It's enough, given Pennsylvania's parole guidelines, to keep the 68-year-old Sandusky confined to prison for life.
Judge, defense and prosecution all agreed on that.
"Realistically, even if Jerry was to survive the 30 years, he won't be released," said Sandusky's own attorney, Joe Amendola.
Sandusky knew he was never going to be free again. He knew it that hot June night as the sheriff and a deputy hauled him away, a look of fright across his face, people shouting for him to rot in hell. Judging by his thinning frame, a result, his family said, of twice-a-day workouts in his isolation cell and a distaste for jail food, he's on his way to doing just that.
So, no, this crisp fall morning wasn't about a sentencing hearing, the outcome a mere formality.
Instead, the old Penn State defensive coordinator was determined to mount one last offense, to haunt his victims simply because he could.
"Touchdown Jerry," read an inspirational card of support from a former Second Mile kid who still loved Sandusky – or so Sandusky claimed when he read the card in open court during his long, rambling, delusional testimonial to himself.
Sandusky stood and spoke for about 15 minutes, and this setup was exactly what he wanted. He didn't take the stand at his trial, when he would have faced the wrath of deputy attorney general Joseph McGettigan on cross-examination. He's refused to sit for an interview with the media in recent months, where facts and pointed questions would unravel him. He already fumbled through a brief, impromptu session with Bob Costas where exact details weren't even broached.
No, this was perfect. Sandusky's was the final voice at the hearing, so he would talk and everyone would listen. Sandusky was in control, staring right at the judge about to condemn him, his words floating over a courtroom packed with the victims and the damn cops who finally got him, rows of reporters taking down every word.
No rebuttals. No tackles. Touchdown Jerry in practice red.
Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison for molesting children. (Reuters)There was no acknowledgement of Sandusky's crimes, no apologies to the victims, no signs that he cared or even understood the path of destruction he left in his wake here. Sandusky maintained his innocence and vowed an appeal. Then he flaunted his depravity in open court.
Sandusky dismissed everything presented, every shred of evidence, every emotional witness-stand session. Three of his former victims mustered the courage to come and address him directly, and he responded with a dismissive smirk as he sat hunched over the defense table. Another victim came to the hearing and had a statement read by McGettigan.
The coach had a strategy, a two-part game plan and he was executing it. On Monday, Amendola instructed him that a sentencing hearing wasn't the time or place to attack witnesses and argue innocence. If he tried, Judge John Cleland would silence him on the spot.
Within hours, a pre-taped audio statement from jail was conveniently playing on Penn State's ComRadio. It allowed him to condemn the system, label everything a conspiracy and beg those with "the courage to listen" to "evaluate the accusers and their families." He then promptly did it for them, of course, labeling his victims as greedy, dishonest, disloyal, poor, trashy, troubled liars.
"An insult to human decency," McGettigan called Sandusky's statement.
"Like all conspiracy theories, it flows from the undeniable to the unbelievable," Judge Cleland scolded.
"You tried to attack us as if we had done something wrong," Victim No. 4 said to him directly. "You have no morals."
Another unwitting assault finished, Sandusky switched tactics for the second part of his plan.
Over and over he spoke about the good times of his life, the good visions of the past and about how no conviction, no sentence, no little isolated prison cell could take those memories from him. He spoke of saying that a friend had provided him a helpful saying to reflect on as he sits in a cell: "It doesn't matter what you look at, it's what you see."
"I look at those walls and I see light," Sandusky joyously declared. "I see letters of support, I see great memories. I see family and friends. I see those who overcame big obstacles."
You can't touch me, he was saying. You can't hurt me after I've lived such a righteous existence. These bars and walls and razor wire are powerless to that. Then, worst of all, he said he would remember more.
He would remember the kids.
"I see my throwing thousands of kids up in the air, hundreds of water balloon battles, happy times, people laughing with us," Sandusky said. "I see kids laughing and playing, and I see a loveable dog licking their face."
For decades, Sandusky used every manipulative trick to molest young boys, and he was trying the same here. To bring up his ruse of tossing prepubescent boys into the air – one of his first moves grooming new victims in the pool at the Second Mile camp for disadvantaged children that McGettigan calls a "victim factory" – was particularly cruel.
Sandusky would "kind of [pretend] like he was having trouble getting a good grip," Victim No. 4 described those pool sessions back at trial. "And as he was grabbing you, he would brush your genitals and then throw you."
Sandusky heard Victim 4's testimony on the witness stand a few months back. Now, he was flipping it around as the same guy was sitting right there in the gallery, forced to listen.
You bet Sandusky was going to remember all those throws in the air, all those troubles getting a grip, all those brushes of the genitals.
That was about the depth of his speech. A sick final spin on his conviction. Sandusky played martyr a bit and he expressed undying love for his family and friends who still visit him and make his life bearable. And he went on some pointless, self-absorbed spiels.
Sandusky said he will cherish the memories of his time with children at Second Mile. (Reuters)Mostly though he wanted everyone to know he would draw strength from the memory of his time with children, all the children, and all the memories, an unspoken nod to the horrors that haunt his grown victims. Go ahead and put him in prison, he was saying. He'll be thinking of them, reliving his time with them, enjoying a look back at every single act they experienced together.
What we call despicable and criminal, Jerry Sandusky calls a "blessed life."
Across the courtroom, Victim No. 6, the boy who Sandusky lured into a Penn State shower back in 1998, sat with his head down, intermittently weeping as Sandusky spoke. Earlier, the victim described Sandusky getting him naked under the running water and declaring himself the "'Tickle Monster,' so you could rub my 11-year-old body and get me to think that what you were doing was OK." The ensuing police investigation led to no charges. Sandusky continued. Now Victim No. 6 couldn't even bear to look up.
This was about seizing one final bit of control over the kids, the ones who have come forward and the ones who still remain silent. During the past year he did it over and over, whether it was waiving hearings at the final moment and forcing witnesses to prepare for nothing, or sitting with an ugly smug look as they testified about the sickest moments of their shattered lives.
This was a shrewd plan, and throughout this entire ordeal, of all the terrible things people said and proved Jerry Sandusky to be, no one ever claimed he wasn't remarkably intelligent, creative and cunning.
This was Sandusky bathing them in his narcissism, reminding everyone, and his victims in particular, that when he leans back on that prison bed, no matter how thin the mattress, uncomfortable the conditions or inedible the lunch, no can stop him from reliving it all.
He wanted them to know: They'll remain his. Forever. That part of Touchdown Jerry, clad in red, remains safe and secure.
"A most banal, self-delusional, completely-untethered-from-reality, entirely-self-focused-as-if-he-himself-was-the-victim," McGettigan said, blasting Sandusky's statement.
"It was, in short, ridiculous."
The only hope is that it wasn't effective, that it won't stick with those frightened kids who became powerful men, and that the hateful, harmful words of Jerry Sandusky just drifted off into the Bellefonte air, soon to be forgotten like the shrinking pathetic man they took away on Tuesday to die.