BELLEFONTE — Two former Penn State assistant coaches defended Jerry Sandusky on the stand Monday, saying they hold him in high regard and have often showered with men and boys younger than them in their lifetimes.
One of the two, Booker T. Brooks, went so far as to testify that he’d taken his granddaughter to shower at a YMCA.
“I’ll wait for the end of everything to happen before I make my mind up,” said Brooks, who said he got to know Sandusky well during long car rides for scouting trips decades ago. “I think he’s a great guy.”
Brooks and former offensive assistant coach Dick Anderson were among the first six witnesses called for the defense in its task of countering claims by eight young men last week that Sandusky is a sexual predator who abused them.
Brooks and Anderson praised Sandusky, with Anderson saying, “He had a wonderful reputation in the community.”
Brooks said he worked with Sandusky until Brooks left in 1983 for a job at Oregon State. He returned to State College three years ago.
Anderson said he knows Sandusky from playing for the Nittany Lions together in the 1960s, coaching from 1973 to 1984 and then again the first nine years of Anderson’s second stint at Penn State, from 1990 to 2011.
Anderson’s questioning from defense attorney Joe Amendola was leisurely and civil, with Amendola first seeking to establish through Anderson the work and routine of an assistant Penn State coach. He finished off by having Anderson speak highly of Sandusky’s character.
But when prosecutor Joseph E. McGettigan III stood up for cross-examination, the tone changed.
McGettigan fired off question after question in quick succession. Anderson’s responses appeared to prop up the defense’s assertion in its opening statements that showering with others is common in the life of a coach.
Anderson said he knew Sandusky spent time with young boys, but didn’t know of any complaints against Sandusky and never saw anything inappropriate. He even said he’d share a hotel room with a boy if necessary for emotional support.
But the look on Anderson’s face showed he had grown tired of the prosecutor’s pointed line of questions.
“It was common for him to involve Second Mile kids in a lot of his activities,” he said.
Brooks supported Anderson’s testimony about showering by saying as a youngster in Ohio he attended summer camps and showered with older men. He said when he grew older and became a counselor, he in turn showered with younger people.
“It’s a very common thing all over the country,” he told Amendola.
On cross-examination, McGettigan again went into a fast-paced line of questioning, asking Brooks hypothetically if it were OK to take his grandson for a workout, then shower and hug him.
The defense objected, and Brooks looked squarely at McGettigan and said, “There’s a lot of speculation in that.”
McGettigan’s cross-examination ended with another objection and a scolding from the judge.
McGettigan tossed out another scenario, asking Brooks if it’s OK for a middle-aged man to take a shower with a young boy and hug the boy in the shower.
The defense objected and Senior Judge John Cleland told McGettigan that was an “entirely improper question.”
The defense called the following other character witnesses on Monday:
Linda Caldwell, of Centre Hall, who ran a golf mentoring program to which one of the alleged victims was referred by Sandusky in 1995. On the form, Sandusky hand-wrote that he should be the emergency contact for alleged victim No. 4.
State College area resident Brent Pasquinelli, who said he worked with Sandusky as a fundraising consultant from 2007 to 2009 and saw Sandusky with children several times a week.
“I saw a mutual admiration between Second Mile youth, boys and girls, with Jerry. I saw a lot of goofing around. Jerry had a very unique way, and many of us were inspired by this, how he can relate to youth of all ages and get to their level and communicate,” Pasquinelli said.
Brett Witmer, a Bellefonte Area School District elementary teacher, who said he knew alleged victim No. 4 when the boy went to a youth center for after-school activities. Witmer said he knew Sandusky through The Second Mile and remembers sitting on some steps, talking to Sandusky one time when the boy didn’t show up for a planning meeting.
“I knew they spent time together and that Jerry certainly seemed to be an important part of his life,” Witmer said.
Clinton Mettler, a former Second Mile participant who served in the Army and did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, who said he stayed at Sandusky’s house three times and went to church with him. Mettler thought Sandusky was honest, truthful and law-abiding, he told Amendola.
Wes Oliver, a Widener Law School professor who has been following the case, said the defense case has been weak so far.
On the question of whether adults should shower with children, Oliver said that wasn’t really the issue.
“They kind of built up a straw man and then knocked it down,” Oliver said of the defense. “No one was ever saying it’s wrong to be in a locker room where a kid happens to be. The question is, is it OK to take a kid into a shower, to hug him, to pick him up and squeeze him? That was the issue.”
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT