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An End Brings New Beginnings

“Alleged” victims no more.

After eight days of testimony and 20 hours of jury deliberation, justice has been served. The path in which we traveled to come to a verdict was so arduous that I’m still mentally processing what happened on Friday evening.

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It only began 17 days ago. When I showed up in Bellefonte on June 11th, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from this trial — I don’t think anyone did. For months, I tried to prepare myself for all of the deranged, perplexing things that I was about to hear. After the Grand Jury presentment permeated my mind for seven months, I thought I’d be mentally ready.

I wasn’t.

Victim 1, an eighteen-year old with wavy brown hair and a wiry build, was the second victim to testify (It feels great to not to say “alleged” anymore, by the way). As the prosecution began questioning him about the various incidents of abuse, he teared-up, his voice started to tremble, his breaths became more distressed, all while the 300 others in the room remained silent.

Prosecutor Joe McGettigan gradually quizzed Victim 1 about his initial meeting with his high school guidance counselor. “After a few hours, the guidance counselor asked if Jerry ever did anything wrong to me. I broke down and cried and said ‘yes,'” Victim 1 said, his composure decaying by the syllable. “They said that we needed to think about [reporting] it — he has a heart of gold, he wouldn’t do anything like that — they didn’t believe me.”

In the heat of the defense’s cross-examination, he couldn’t keep himself together anymore. He looked down, put his head his hands, and sobbed.

“I just want it to stop…”

It was at that gripping moment that I truly realized Victim 1 felt he was alone. He was just as alone on that wooden witness stand as he was during that meeting with the guidance counselor four years prior. He told the same story, only this time with the hope that a Centre County jury would believe him.

The common theme remained for the six victims that followed. The emotions and words they uttered resembled the shame, embarrassment, and degradation that they’ve been battling inside themselves for years. Even when defense attorneys Joe Amendola and Karl Rominger spent two days attempting to discredit their testimonies citing financial motives and date discrepancies, these young men stood steadfast in eye of the truth, in the eye of the law, and in the eye of the world.

After six days of graphic, disturbing, and sometimes conflicting testimony, closing arguments were made, and the jury embarked on their deliberation.

The waiting began.

**********************************************************************

As deliberations commenced, everyone seemed to have their own prediction about how long they’d take. Some analysts guessed four hours, others hypothesized four days. Ultimately, I think we all knew that there was no way in telling, but due to the lack of action, the media circus needed something to ponder.

Reporters watched their email inboxes in an obsessive manner, thumbing through their phones in the hopes that a court update would be sent. For the first few hours, everyone thought they knew what was going on, but nobody did. Reports of cancelled hotel rooms and dinner orders circulated the interwebs. There was so little information, that people became desperate to learn even the smallest details about the ongoing deliberations.

As Thursday turned into Friday, many reporters, including myself, became mentally and physically fatigued. My Onward State colleague, Kevin Horne, and I had been ready for the verdict since early Thursday afternoon. All we could do was hunker down in the Bellefonte Dairy Queen with uncomfortable chairs and inconsistent Wi-fi. There we waited, for two days.

After spending about eight straight hours in that DQ on Friday, I began to draw the mental conclusion that I was going to be spending my Saturday there as well.

Slowly but surely, as 8 o’clock rolled around, a buzz began to build around the courthouse. Dozens of locals were patiently idling on the steps, media remained vigilant, but there was still no word on even a possible verdict. At 8:40, I headed into the courtroom simply to remove myself from the red and white walls of Dairy Queen. The anticipation amplified, the chatter intensified, the courtroom filled with locals and reporters alike, but it was still all speculative up to that point.

Then, with one click of the mouse, the email was transmitted at 9:30 p.m.

“Court will convene in approximately 20 minutes to receive a verdict.”

Those 20 minutes seemed to drag longer than the 20 total hours of deliberation. The reporter side of me was ready, but the Penn State side was not. Tensions were extremely high in those 20 minutes both personally and collectively. The last time I had been that nervous was the night Joe Paterno was fired at the Penn Stater Conference Center, and we all know what happened that night. My heart was racing, my feet were shaking as I gently rocked back and forth in the center of the fifth media row.

Jerry Sandusky entered the courtroom for the last time as a free man at 9:50 p.m., court was in session three minutes later.

The jury filed in shortly thereafter. Juror 4, a middle-aged engineer from State College, served as the foreman to read the verdict. Cleland ordered him to reveal Sandusky’s fate at 9:58 p.m.

He enunciated each word in the same exact tone; he did not waver. Not once.

“Count #1: Indeviate sexual assault, the jury finds the defendant…”

He paused for a moment.

“GUILTY.”

As he read the verdict of the first charge, a faint gasp filled the room – similar to one I heard when John Surma announced Joe Paterno would be removed as head football coach. Besides the foreman’s stern voice, the only audible noise was the soft clicking of laptop keyboards feverishly being used by their nervous owners; waiting to release the news to the world.

The foreman found Sandusky guilty of 44 more charges. The total deliverance of the verdict took a total of nine minutes.

The prosecution then motioned to have Sandusky’s bail revoked. Judge Cleland obliged. The sheriff made a slight hand motion, instructing the police officer to enter and lead Sandusky away. Sandusky rose from his chair, moveto his right, briefly glanced at his wife, Dottie, and proceeded to exit the courtroom.

No smiles this time.

********************************************************************

For one night, we could collectively exhale knowing that a serial pedophile has been imprisoned and will never see the light of day again.

Even though the perpetrator is behind bars, I feel that the surface of this “scandal” has only been scratched.  The question of how a sexual predator freely roamed University Park is still yet to be answered.

In the coming months, former FBI director Louis Freeh’s internal report on the Penn State and the impending trial of administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz may expose any kind of “cover-up” that may have lived in the valley that we still call happy, at least for now. After adding several civil litigations and a whistleblower lawsuit from Mike McQueary, it quickly becomes apparent that the legal road for Penn State it going to be long and winding.

But after seven months, we can all take one-step forward.

However, just because Jerry Sandusky is confined to an Centre County prison, the topic of child sexual abuse is not a conversation that deserves to be tabled. I’ve met plenty of people over the past seven months that simply will not discuss Sandusky and his crimes. That’s not the way to approach it. While the trial is over, the worldwide issues of child abuse remains. It’s a topic that deserves to be talked about, not ignored. That’s we got here in the first place.

To quote activist Sarvy Emo: “With awareness, comes education.”

*******************************************************************

This verdict symbolizes the beginning of many things in my mind. For the world, it marks the start of an increase for child sexual abuse awareness. For a majority Penn Staters, contradictory to what portions of the national media alluded to, Sandusky represented all that is evil.

After seeing him sent to jail, the healing process can begin at last for much of the PSU faithful. More locally, the small Victorian town of Bellefonte can go back to being the small Victorian town of Bellefonte. And finally and most importantly, the victims — especially Victim 1 who wasn’t initially believed by his peers — can finally begin to have closure, now that the man who abused them is locked away for good.

In a matter of days, their roles were reversed. Sixty-eight year old Jerry Sandusky is currently secluded from everything he ever knew. Conversely, ten young men are no longer forsaken, as 12 Centre County men and women have set their stories, and quite possibly the rest of their lives, free at last.

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About the Author

Ryan Beckler

Ryan is a senior in the Smeal College of Business majoring in Marketing. He is a Lion Ambassador who loves giving tours to prospective students. His favorite activities include distributing news and consuming Chipotle.

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