BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Jurors in Jerry Sandusky's child sexual abuse case began deliberations Thursday after prosecutors described him as a serial molester who groomed his victims, while his defense lawyer said the former Penn State assistant football coach was being victimized by an overzealous prosecution and greedy accusers.
Prosecutors said Sandusky was "a serial, predatory pedophile" who used gifts and the pageantry of Penn State's vaunted football program to lure and abuse vulnerable boys who came from troubled homes.
"What you should do is come out and say to the defendant that he molested and abused and give them back their souls," Senior Deputy Attorney General Joseph McGettigan III. "I give them to you. Acknowledge and give them justice."
Standing behind Sandusky, McGettigan implored the jury to convict him
"He molested and abused and hurt these children horribly," McGettigan said. "He knows he did it, and you know he did it.
"Find him guilty of everything."
Sandusky's attorney said the 68-year-old former coach was being victimized by investigators who led accusers into making false claims about a generous man whose charity gave them much-needed love.
"They went after him, and I submit to you they were going to get him hell or high water, even if they had to coach witnesses," Amendola said in a sometimes angry closing argument.
If convicted, Sandusky could spend the rest of his life in state prison. He is charged with 48 counts related to 10 boys over 15 years. The jury includes nine people with ties to Penn State University.
The closing arguments came after seven days testimony, some of it graphically describing alleged abuse suffered at the hands of Sandusky, including touching in showers, fondling and in some cases forced oral or anal sex. One alleged victim — a foster child at the time — testified that Sandusky threatened him, telling him if he disclosed the assaults he would never see his family again.
Although Sandusky didn't take the stand in his own defense, McGettigan seized on an interview he gave NBC's "Rock Center" just after his arrest. In it, Sandusky seemed to stumble at times and struggled to give direct answers to questions about his conduct.
Asked if he was sexually attracted to boys, Sandusky told NBC's Bob Costas: "Sexually attracted, you know, I, I enjoy young people. I, I love to be around them. ... No, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys."
McGettigan said, "I would think that the automatic response, if someone asks you if you're a criminal, a pedophile, a child molester, or anything along those lines, would be: 'You're crazy. No. Are you nuts?'"
Prosecutors said Sandusky met his victims through The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youth he had founded.
Eight young men testified that they were abused by the former Penn State assistant football coach, and jurors also heard about two other alleged victims through other witnesses, including another former coach.
It was the testimony of that coach, then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, that prompted university trustees the fire longtime coach Joe Paterno and the university's president.
Sandusky has repeatedly denied the allegations, and his defense at trial included a suggestion that his accusers have a financial motive to make up stories, years after the fact.
McGettigan displayed the pictures of eight smiling children for the jury, reminding them of what he said were lives forever altered by Sandusky's abuse.
"These are childhoods ravished," he said. "Memories destroyed."
But Amendola anticipated that in his own closing statement, telling jurors not to let the prosecution tug their heartstrings.
"I'll be the first one to tell you that if he did this, he should rot in jail," Amendola said. "But what if he didn't do it? His life is destroyed. Don't be fooled. Don't get tied up with the pictures."
McQueary testified that he witnessed Sandusky in a team shower with a young boy more than a decade ago, and that he is convinced Sandusky was molesting the child.
Amendola questioned McQueary's recollection of what happened, of what he claimed to see and hear in a football facility shower and how he reacted afterward, going to his father and Dr. Jonathan Dranov, who then said he should report what he saw to Joe Paterno.
"Do they say 'We have to call the police?' You know what they said. 'Talk to Joe Paterno,'" Amendola told the jurors.
If McQueary believed that he saw Sandusky raping a boy, why would McQueary later attend a Second Mile event, Amendola asked.
"If this man was performing horrific sexual acts on young kids, would you continue to support him in a tournament?" he said. "It doesn't make sense."
"Does Joe Paterno say we've got to call the police?" Amendola asked.
Defense witnesses, including Sandusky's wife, Dottie, described his philanthropic work with children over the years, and many of the 28 defense witnesses spoke in positive terms about his reputation in the community.
Sandusky's arrest in November led the Penn State trustees to fire Paterno, saying he exhibited a lack of leadership after fielding a report from McQueary about the 2001 incident. The scandal also led to the ouster of university president Graham Spanier, and criminal charges against two university administrators for failing to properly report suspected child abuse and perjury.
The two administrators, athletic director Tim Curley and now-retired vice president Gary Schultz, are fighting the allegations and await trial.
Earlier Thursday, the judge in the case threw out three of the 51 child sex-abuse charges against Sandusky.
Judge John Cleland found one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and one count of aggravated indecent assault involving the accuser known as Victim 4 weren't supported by the evidence. Another charge of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse involving another boy was dismissed because Cleland said it duplicated another count.
That left 48 counts for jurors to consider.