BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A Centre County jury found Jerry Sandusky guilty of 45 counts of child sex abuse late Friday night, closing the first chapter in a scandal that tarnished a university and led to the ouster of four of its top administrators.
He was acquitted on three counts.
The panel of seven women and five men returned their verdict at about 10 p.m., after about 21 hours of deliberations over two days. The former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach now faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison after his sentencing hearing, which will be in about 90 days.
Over the course of his eight-day trial, jurors heard from eight accusers who said Sandusky, 68, molested them as boys during a period spanning from the mid-1990s until 2009.
Each said they met Sandusky through The Second Mile, the charity for underprivileged youth he founded in 1977. Many shared similar stories of the former coach groping their naked bodies in football locker room showers or raping them in the basement of his State College home.
Jurors also heard of assaults on two other victims whom prosecutors never identified. The most publicized incident was described by former Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary. He testified last week that he walked in on Sandusky in 2001 sodomizing a boy in a locker room shower.
Defense attorneys attempted to counter those claims by alleging that their client's accusers had made up their accounts of abuse in hopes of eventual windfalls from after-trial civil suits against Penn State.
But this is only the first courtroom reckoning tied to the scandal.
Former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a former vice president in charge of the campus police, face charges of perjury and failing to report child abuse stemming from their response to the McQueary episode. Prosecutors say both did not report the incident to outside authorities and later lied about their knowledge of it to grand jurors. They maintain their innocence and expect to take their case before a Dauphin County jury in the next year.
Sooner, Penn State officials will hear from former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was hired to conduct an internal investigation into the university's handling of allegations against Sandusky. His report could be released as soon as July, university trustees said.
And last week, as Sandusky's trial began, the university began preparing trustees for the possibility of an indictment against former president Graham B. Spanier. Though prosecutors did not initially charge Spanier with a crime, grand jurors have reportedly focused on his role in handling McQueary's claims.
Spanier resigned his position at the university in November on the same day trustees fired revered head football coach Joe Paterno for not doing enough in response to allegations against Sandusky.
By the time the verdict was read Friday night, even some of Sandusky's closest neighbors - the two living on either side of him - had come to believe that the horrific charges were true, a particularly disturbing revelation considering they both have young children. Both allowed anti-sexual abuse signs to be posted in their yards.
Shortly after Sandusky was announced guilty, one of them, Susan Strauss, an applied linguistics professor at Penn State, prepared to set off fireworks in her yard, a symbol of relief that justice had been served.
"Oh my God, 45 counts guilty!" Strauss said as she watched the verdict on television with her children. "I just feel so relieved and now we can start healing. So much pain has been caused."
Strauss didn't believe the charges when they were announced in November. She wrote the couple a note, offering her support. But she has become increasingly convinced that there was a monster living next door to her, especially after hearing the testimony at the trial via media reports.
She recalled one time when Sandusky offered to have her 9-year-old adopted son, one of her six adopted children, to come over to the house. The boy was afraid of Sandusky's dog, Bo, a St. Bernard.
"Jerry said some day you can come over and play and we'll go down into the basement," Strauss.recalled.
She woke up in a panic one night recalling that conversation. Her son never went.
"Had we known he had these types of tendencies we both would have made different choices with regards to trust," Strauss said.
On the other side of the Sanduskys are the Kletchkas. Paul Kletchka in an email sent Thursday morning as closing arguments were being presented expressed sympathy for the victims who spent the last seven months with Sandusky still free as he awaited trial. That was seven months when Sandusky played with his dog, Bo, on the deck and watched children on the nearby school playground, he wrote.
"Seven months of anguish for our community," he added. "We've all been painted with this broad brush, labeled football cultists who couldn't possibly mete out justice in this case. Let me tell you - people here yearn for justice to be servied."
Kletcha said Friday night shortly before the verdict was announced that he called in sick today. He was particularly disturbed that Matt Sandusky, Jerry Sandusky's adopted son, had claimed on Thursday that he, too, had been abused.
"Today was just terrible," he said, shortly after watching Sandusky be taken away from his State College home to return to the courtroom to hear the verdict.
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