Advisory: this story contains graphic content
By Ian Simpson and Dave Warner
BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Former Pennsylvania State University football coach Jerry Sandusky was ordered to spend at least 30 years in prison on Tuesday for sexually abusing at-risk boys for more than a decade, a sentence likely to keep him behind bars until he dies.
Defiantly maintaining his innocence, the 68-year-old retired defensive coordinator listened as several of his victims recounted their pain to the packed courtroom. Then, he told the court: "I did not do these alleged disgusting acts."
Sandusky stood motionless in a red prison jumpsuit, his back to the courtroom audience and his wife, Dottie, while Judge John Cleland handed down the 30- to 60- year sentence. It would make him at least 98 years old before being eligible for parole.
"Your crime is not only what you did to their bodies, but your assault on their psyche and their souls," Cleland told him at the hearing in Centre County Court. "The tragedy of this story is it is a story of betrayal. Some of your victims had a genuine affection for you.
"It is precisely that ability to conceal those vices from yourself and everyone else that in my view makes you dangerous," he said.
Sandusky was convicted in June on 45 counts of child sex abuse for molesting 10 boys over 15 years, some in the football team's showers on campus.
His victims accused him of fondling and oral and anal abuse. One recalled screaming in vain for help in the basement of Sandusky's home.
The scandal shined a light on the devastating issue of child sexual abuse and raised pointed questions about the motivation of people who knew about Sandusky's behaviour but failed for years to report a top coach vital to building Penn State's successful and lucrative football program.
The decision to cast a blind eye toward Sandusky has led to harsh consequences for Penn State. Its football program has been penalized; school officials have lost jobs or face criminal charges; and the legacy of Joe Paterno, once a beloved and towering figure in college sports, has been deeply tarnished. It also faces several costly lawsuits by victims.
Addressing the court before his sentencing, Sandusky said: "Others can take my life. They can make me out to be a monster," he said. "In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts.
"The pain continues as I think of those who made the allegations. These are people I cared about, and still do," he said.
"I tried to bring joy, I tried to make people laugh," he said of his work at The Second Mile charity he founded and where he was accused of recruiting his victims.
Breaking into sobs as he talked about his family, he said: "We will continue to fight. There is much to fight."
A LIFETIME OF MISERY
Several of the men who testified at trial that they were abused by Sandusky returned to speak at the sentencing.
"I will never erase the images of his naked body on mine," said one. "He took away my childhood the day he assaulted me."
Prosecutor Joseph McGettigen read a statement from a victim's mother who said her son twice tried to commit suicide.
"You caused him a lifetime of misery," she said. "Whatever comes to you, I hope it is ten-fold what you did to my son and the other victims."
The prosecutor added that Sandusky "selected the most vulnerable to prey upon."
"It was cruel beyond imagining," he said.
Sandusky faced a much longer possible sentence of hundreds of years, but the judge said: "I am not going to sentence you to centuries in prison even though the law allows me to do that."
Following the hearing, Sandusky's defence team said they were pleased with the sentence - given what he faced - and were preparing an appeal of his conviction to be filed in the next ten days.
The defence contends they did not have enough time to prepare for the high-profile case. Sandusky was arrested 11 months ago and the trial began in June.
Sandusky was returned to the local jail temporarily, until he is taken to prison.
In the wake of the scandal, Paterno, who held the record for victories among big-time U.S. college football coaches in a career of more than 40 seasons, was fired, as was Penn State president Graham Spanier for failing to act on what they knew about Sandusky's behaviour.
Paterno died in January of lung cancer at age 85.
An investigation commissioned by Penn State trustees said university leaders knew about and covered up Sandusky's sexual abuse of children for years in an effort to protect the multimillion dollar football program.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson released a statement following the sentencing saying: "While today's sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it will provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events and help them continue down the road to recovery."
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said he was "thrilled" with the sentence.
"He is clearly, is dangerous, completely unrepentant. The most important thing is he's kept away from kids and the sentence achieves that," he said.