(STATE COLLEGE, Pa.) - Their accounts of horrific child abuse shattered the idyllic facade of a prestigious university.
Since November, their identities have been masked by simple numerals in reports by a Pennsylvania grand jury - markers spanning a period of 15 years during which they were allegedly victimized by a local icon.
Next week, as many as eight of the 10 alleged child victims of former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky will prepare to step from the shadows and, for the first time in public, recount a litany of offenses that have shaken the state's largest university and surrounding community. Four top university administrators, including its former president Graham Spanier, have been ousted in the past six months. The most convulsive period in the university's history did not spare even its most revered figure: Joe Paterno, the college football legend and public face of Penn State, was unceremoniously asked to leave. He died just two months later, shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
The dizzying series of events is only a prelude to a trial set to open June 5 with jury selection in nearby Bellefonte, where Sandusky is scheduled to face 52 criminal counts in what promises fresh trauma for the place long known as Happy Valley.
"There is a curiosity, an anxiety about what else might be coming," said Donald Hahn, president of the State College borough's governing council and, himself, a Penn State graduate. "We are weary of this. But we are also anxious to see justice done."
Prosecutors have said it could take two weeks to present its case to a jury, whose members will be drawn from the same region where Sandusky was long viewed as one of its unshakeable pillars.
The legal drama, set to unfold in nearby Bellefonte, has already thrust the quiet borough studded with Victorian homes into the sometimes uncomfortable national spotlight. For Sandusky's December preliminary hearing appearance, Bellefonte traffic was rerouted away from the courthouse, some streets were closed and security officers were positioned on neighboring rooftops. Under Pennsylvania rules, the trial will not be televised. Judge John Cleland, however, issued an order Wednesday that will allow reporters to text, tweet and e-mail dispatches directly from their seats in the ornate, second-floor courtroom as developments unfold. He also denied a renewed request from Sandusky to delay jury selection.
Gary Gray, a Penn State finance professor and one of many collegiate football stars who under Sandusky's tutelage helped forge the program's reputation as "Linebacker U," said the trial is likely to inflict much more "pain."
"I still can't believe it," said Gray, who discontinued an early effort to raise funds for Sandusky's defense after reading the graphic 23-page grand jury report.
"I am not a religious man, and I pray to God that he didn't do these things. But people think these kids were violated and it very well may have happened. If that is the case, Jerry should fry."
For the school's more than 40,000 students, the trial represents a chance for basic accountability.
"We're still looking for answers," said former student body president T.J. Bard, a rising senior who sought to quell the rioting that followed the November firings of Spanier and Paterno. "Up to this point we haven't gotten any answers. All sides in this are telling very different stories. Who do we hold accountable as a university?"
Joe Amendola, Sandusky's lawyer, has said there are no plans to seek a plea deal that would avert the upcoming courtroom confrontation between his client and the children - now young men - he took in as the trusted founder of a local charity for at-risk kids. He has filed a motion for dismissal that the judge has not ruled on. If convicted, Sandusky could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Amendola, in an interview with USA TODAY before Cleland issued an April 9 order barring the defense and prosecution from talking about the case, said that the defense will "aggressively" challenge each of Sandusky's accusers. Many of them, the attorney said, are seeking to "destroy" the former coach as part of a strategy to win potentially lucrative civil lawsuits against university officials and the institution.
"What gets lost here is that Jerry was involved as a mentor for hundreds of other kids who came to his house over the years," Amendola said. "But none of those kids are saying that Jerry molested them. It doesn't make sense."
Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly, who is overseeing the prosecution, has repeatedly declined to comment on the case. But following a court appearance last month, before Cleland issued the sweeping gag order, Senior Deputy Attorney General Joe McGettigan tersely characterized Amendola's claims as part of a "pointless escapade" designed to divert attention away from the heart of the state's case.
"I look forward to the day," McGettigan said, "when the victims in this litany of perversions get their day in court to confront the man who victimized them."
For years, some of their attorneys say, the alleged victims of Sandusky had been haunted by events so lurid that they were rendered mute.
Now, they are ready to speak.
Prosecutors, family attorneys, psychologists and therapists have been guiding the witnesses through a delicate process that began more than two years ago in halting interviews with law enforcement officials.
Those initial interviews, according to court documents, led state investigators to a string of additional alleged victims and witnesses who told their grim stories to a state grand jury meeting secretly in a Harrisburg, Pa., conference room. While access to the victims has been closely guarded since the first allegations were revealed in November, the trial will require that their troubling accounts be shared in public - and in person.
In a bid to at least partially shield them from "overwhelming publicity" surrounding the case, attorneys for at least five of the alleged victims petitioned the judge earlier this week to assign them pseudonyms so that their actual identities could be protected. A decision on that request was pending late Wednesday.
"I don't know of another human being on Earth who is more looking forward to putting this chapter behind him than my client," said Ben Andreozzi, a Harrisburg attorney who represents a 27-year-old man identified by prosecutors as "Victim 4," one of the witnesses seeking to block his name from being publicly disclosed.
Victim 4's allegations are among the most detailed of those outlined by the grand jury. It is a ghastly account of his association with Sandusky, whose initial mentorship allegedly veered into a dark period of sexual abuse in which the witness, beginning at about age 12, was subjected to oral sex, fondling and attempted anal assault.
"His job is to testify and tell the truth," Andreozzi said. "And he is ready to do that."
Like virtually of all of the alleged victims, Andreozzi's client is expected to speak of a pattern of behavior in which young boys, according to the state grand jury report, were picked by the coach from the pool of participants in the Second Mile program. Sandusky founded the organization in 1977 for, as its website states, "children who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact."
Many of the children associated with the Second Mile, which last week announced a plan to shutter operations, were the recipients of unusually generous gifts - from clothing to computers - before the encounters allegedly turned abusive.
The pattern, which also included frequent showers with the coach following workouts, is strikingly similar to the account provided by the witness designated by the grand jury as "Victim 1."
Victim 1, while not Sandusky's first alleged victim, ignited the investigation. After enduring nearly four years of alleged abuse, the teenager and his mother met with authorities in 2009, according to the grand jury report. Victim 1 told grand jurors that his association with Sandusky started with gifts, trips and cash and then moved to "uncomfortable" encounters.
"The events at issue here," said Philadelphia attorney Slade McLaughlin, who is representing Victim 1, "are indelibly inked into his mind."
'Jerry was in the showers'
Amendola told USA TODAY that his client is "absolutely worried" about how jurors might react to the coach's previous admissions in media interviews that he frequently showered with some of the alleged victims. But the attorney maintains that "nothing sexual occurred."
"We're not splitting hairs here. Jerry was in the showers (with children). But nothing happened," Amendola said, while conceding that Sandusky continued to shower with children even after he was warned not to by authorities investigating a 1998 abuse allegation involving a shower incident.
Sandusky was not charged then, but state prosecutors have included the allegations from that witness, designated as "Victim 6," as part of the current case against the coach.
Most important to Sandusky's defense, Amendola said, are the charges related to alleged victims, designated as "Victim 2" and "Victim 8," both of whom have yet to be found by prosecutors.
Amendola's main target has been former Penn State football assistant Michael McQueary, who told grand jurors that he saw Sandusky abusing a young boy, known as "Victim 2," in the showers of the football locker room.
Although the grand jury report directly states that McQueary saw the boy being sodomized by Sandusky, McQueary testified in a related case in December that he didn't actually see the boy being raped. And this month, prosecutors said the date of the alleged incident involving Victim 2 was actually Feb. 9, 2001, and not March 1, 2002, as stated in grand jury report.
"McQueary cannot be believed," Amendola said.
The incident involving Victim 2 also is at the heart of related perjury charges against former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former university senior vice president Gary Schultz. The two are accused of lying to the same grand jury about what McQueary told them about the incident and for failing to report the matter to law enforcement authorities.
Both men have denied any wrongdoing and are awaiting trial.
'A much more sober community'
In the place that once seemed immune from such taint, the postcard-quaint college town that once lived for celebratory football weekends has lost much of that innocence, at least for now.
"This is a much more sober community," said Hahn, the State College council president. "I think we are less confident, less trusting of the leadership. ... It's like the community is a bystander at a car wreck."
Gray, one of Sandusky's former star linebackers, said the past seven months have thrust Happy Valley into a state of "suspended animation."
"A lot of people have been scarred, probably unfairly," he says, referring to Curley, Schultz and Paterno, who was ousted for not doing more than notify the athletic director after McQueary reported seeing Sandusky in the showers with the young boy.
He does not harbor such sympathy for his former coach. "If Jerry did do it, I feel absolutely betrayed."
At the house on the edge of town where much of the abuse is alleged to have occurred - a modest monument to suburbia at the end of a quiet cul de sac - there is no escaping the outrage that the criminal allegations have unleashed. Sandusky, under house arrest, has an unencumbered view of his neighbors' front yards and the carefully positioned signs planted in the grass that urge child victims to report sexual abuse.
"These are the very same people who once were regarded as Jerry and Dottie Sandusky's friends," Amendola said.
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY