ShareThis Page

Friends' fond memories clash with dark image of Sandusky

| Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011

Kip Richeal remembers eating meals with the Sandusky family at their sprawling dinner table with two long benches and enough seating for more than a dozen people.

It was not uncommon for friends, neighborhood kids and foster children to join Jerry Sandusky's five adopted sons and daughter to eat, laugh and trade stories.

They said prayers before meals. Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator for Penn State's football team, sat at the head of the table.

"They were like 'The Waltons,' " said Richeal, referring to the iconic 1970s television series featuring a large family in rural Virginia. "It always seemed like Jerry had the perfect family and a picture-perfect life. I envied it. I didn't have a family like that."

Richeal, a Penn State graduate who was the football team's equipment manager, co-authored Sandusky's memoir, "Touched." Richeal said the Jerry Sandusky he knew for more than 30 years was a man who started The Second Mile charity to help disadvantaged kids and was dedicated to Penn State's football team.

Those memories are in stark contrast to the portrait presented in two Pennsylvania grand jury indictments charging Sandusky, 67, with a total of 52 counts of child sex abuse involving 10 boys from 1994 to 2009. Sandusky is confined to his home on $250,000 cash and property bail, awaiting a preliminary hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Bellefonte.

"I always saw him put his arm around kids and he'd joke around with them, but it always seemed like a mentoring relationship, and never once did I believe there was anything sinister to it," said Bob Capretto, a retired orthodontist from Oakmont who played football with Sandusky at Penn State in the 1960s and in later decades participated in charity golf events to support The Second Mile.

"If what they are saying he did is even one-tenth truth, he deserves to burn in hell," Capretto said. "What he's accused of doing is so monstrous, he'd have to be the devil himself to live that kind of a double life."

'One step too far'

People in Sandusky's hometown of Washington, Pa., appear to be distancing themselves from Sandusky these days, concerned that the town's image could suffer.

Born in 1944, Sandusky was the only child of Art and Evie Sandusky, who are both deceased. His parents founded Brownson House in 1952, a recreation center for children. The Sanduskys lived in an apartment above the rec center, and his parents oversaw the creation of the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling program, junior basketball, volleyball, boxing and football programs for Brownson House. The Sanduskys ran the center until 1985. It became a United Way-affiliated rec center that merged with the Vernon C. Neal Sportsplex.

"He always talked about how he didn't mind being an only child because, growing up, he always had kids to play with at the recreation center," Richeal said.

In the book, Sandusky writes: "One of my most distinguishable characteristics in my youth was my inability to know when to quit. Somehow, some way, I seemed to always take things one step too far."

Sandusky attended Washington High School, where he was a standout athlete on the basketball, baseball and football teams. Classmates said he was a bit of a loner.

"I never knew one person who didn't get along with Jerry," said Ron Cimino, 67, a childhood friend. "He was easygoing. Now when you put a uniform on him, he was a bear."

But, Cimino recalls, "he never went to the prom, never asked a girl to a dance. He never dated."

Sandusky landed at Penn State as a student and football player, starting at defensive end.

"He was very focused, very dedicated," Capretto said of Sandusky during his playing days. "He wasn't one to be out partying."

A 'devastating blow'

During his senior year of college, Sandusky met his wife, Dottie, at a picnic in Washington County. He writes in his book that he was "shy and awkward" as a young man, and said he needed his mother's help to ask his future wife for a date.

"She asked her to come to a softball game I was playing in, and I ended up taking her home," Sandusky wrote of his mother's intervention.

The couple married and were dealt a "devastating blow" when they learned they could not have biological children, Sandusky wrote.

In the decades that followed, the Sanduskys adopted six children and took in dozens of foster children. He treated The Second Mile children to trips to football bowl games, swimming outings, cash, clothing and electronics.

Authorities allege that that behavior, which experts who study child predators call "grooming," was part of Sandusky's process to lure potential sex abuse victims and gain their trust and affection. Nearly all of the alleged victims describe Sandusky's "horsing around" with them in showers and swimming pools and taking games of "tossing soap" back and forth to eventual sexual encounters.

"His modus operandi reads like someone who is the classic case of a serial child molester. He used his organization to meet vulnerable kids, gave them special privileges and then traded on his fame and stature to create situations where they could go from ostensibly playing a game to engaging in sex acts," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

Richeal believes Sandusky was sincere in his desire to start the charity.

"I really think he started The Second Mile with a sincere desire to help kids and point them in the right direction," Richeal said. "I don't think it was a ruse to lure children. I think growing up the way he did, seeing his parents always helping others, really influenced him. He always said his greatest joy, other than his family, was giving these kids a closeness and a love they weren't getting at home."

'None of this fits'

As Sandusky's face appears with regularity in local and national media, those who have known him for decades are struggling to come to terms with the image of the man they've seen in handcuffs, being led from his house by police.

"This is all really stacking up on him now," said Richeal, referring to the latest dozen charges filed last week.

A 19-year-old man last week told state police that the former coach plied him with alcohol. State police are investigating the claim -- one that Richeal finds hard to believe.

"I never once, in more than 30 years of knowing Jerry, have ever seen him drink any alcohol. He didn't even keep alcohol in his home," Richeal said. "He never swore, never said a bad word about anybody. None of this fits."

Another man, called Victim 10 in a grand jury report, said that on at least one occasion, Dottie Sandusky was home when her husband assaulted him.

"The victim testified that on at least one occasion he screamed for help, knowing that Sandusky's wife was upstairs, but no one ever came to help him," the report states.

Dottie Sandusky, who posted a $50,000 check to help satisfy her husband's bond, said in a statement that she was "shocked and dismayed" by the alleged victim's testimony and denied all of the allegations against her husband.

"I continue to believe in Jerry's innocence and all the good things he has done," she said.

"It seems Dottie was always the one to bail me out when things didn't go right," Sandusky said in his book.

Richeal said he last heard from his friend in April, when Sandusky called to tell him that "an investigation was happening" into the former coach's actions with young boys.

"He told me he wanted to apologize to me in advance for anything I might read or hear about him in the coming months," Richeal said. "This entire situation is just sad. So many things, so many lives will never be the same. These kids. Jerry. The lore of Penn State, even 50 years from now, will, I think, always include the words 'Jerry Sandusky' and 'child molester.' The history of the university and the personal histories of so many people have been rewritten.

"I wonder if any of us really ever knew Jerry Sandusky."

sanusky's attorney defies conventional wisdom

As he defends a sports figure charged with sexually abusing 10 young boys and manages a case that led to the firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, defense lawyer Joseph Amendola has defied conventional wisdom.

He let his client, retired Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky, get on the phone with NBC's Bob Costas. Then he put him through two days of interviews with The New York Times.

Amendola insists the 67-year-old former coach is not the serial predator described by the grand jury, which charged Sandusky with dozens of counts of child sex abuse dating to the mid-1990s.

Despite widespread criticism, Amendola, a Penn State graduate, says he's ready to face his client's accusers in a preliminary hearing on Tuesday.

"There is a method to my madness," Amendola, 63, said on Saturday. "This has been a well-thought-out strategy."

His defense strategy has been unorthodox, leaving legal experts wondering whether Amendola, a small-town solo practitioner working in the glare of the national spotlight, is at loose ends -- or crazy like a fox.

In many criminal cases, lawyers keep their clients quiet. But Amendola put Sandusky on the phone with Costas, who asked whether he is sexually attracted to boys. The retired coach paused and pondered the question. Then the lawyer had to jump in when Sandusky bobbled the question again with the Times.

If nothing else, Amendola has made clear he won't be intimidated. He also may be trying to show Sandusky what he's up against.

A Philadelphia-area native, he earned a degree in history from Penn State and a law degree from Georgetown.

Amendola started his legal career in the Philadelphia district attorney's office under then-D.A. and future U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. Before long, he returned to his college town, where he has spent three decades honing a reputation as a skilled, if decidedly unflashy, criminal lawyer.

— The Associated Press

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me