The words came haltingly, punctuated by ragged sighs, groans and cracking voices as two teenage boys just days out of high school bared their darkest secrets to a packed courtroom.
One sat up straight, bit his lower lip and then seemed to break down, his slender frame wracked by sobs as he buried his head in his hands. Two days later, the other cracked his knuckles and fidgeted. His childish "yeahs" and the eye patch he wore over an injury made him seem younger than his years, more vulnerable.
Neither wanted to be there. Both hung their heads and cried as they described in detail what they said a mentor did to them when they were little boys who needed a father figure.
"He ...," the 18-year-old known as Alleged Victim No. 1, started to say. The witness hesitated, choking back sobs.
"He put ..." Pausing now, he reached for the strength to spit out the words.
"He put his mouth on my privates."
"Um, he, ah," began the other 18-year-old, known as Alleged Victim No. 9. After a nervous laugh, he described the act of oral sex in graphic terms. Chewing on a thumbnail, he explained, "That's how you have to put it." And then he revealed that he was sodomized.
"He got real aggressive, and just forced me into it," he said. "And I just went with it; there was no fighting against it." Sometimes, he said, he'd "scream, tell him to get off me. But you're in a basement, no one can hear you down there."
"He," they said, is Jerry Sandusky, the retired, 68-year-old defensive coordinator for Penn State University's storied football team. Sandusky, who also founded a charity for at-risk kids known as the Second Mile, is on trial in Centre County Court, charged with 52 counts of molesting 10 boys over 15 years. Prosecutors say he used the charity to troll for the preteen boys he groomed for sex.
The Sandusky Eight are known in the official court record as Alleged Victims Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10. (Nos. 2 and 8 have not been identified, but others described walking in on sexual acts between Sandusky and boys.)
"Who is that?" reporters whispered in the reserved media seats each time a new witness took the stand. "What number is he?"
It seems dehumanizing at worst, awkward at best, to refer to these now-grown boys by number. Yet everybody covering the case does so. It's a way to preserve the privacy of young men who say they were sexually abused as children, men who are swallowing their own shame and embarrassment to step forward at a high profile trial.
To the 100-plus people who gained entry to the courtroom, these men finally do have names and faces. Prosecutor Joseph E. McGettigan III unveiled them in his opening statement on Monday, projecting boyhood photos on a big screen. Jurors and spectators heard their voices and shared their discomfort as the case rocketed forward at a breathtaking pace. There was barely time for lunch, not that anyone felt like eating.
The Sandusky scandal landed with an icky thump in November, the long-buried secrets sliming the reputation of Penn State's football program and an idyllic spot proud to call itself the Happy Valley.
Already, it has cut a tornado's swath: Legendary coach Joe Paterno, affectionately know as "JoePa," is gone, dead and buried. University President Graham Spanier, gone and suing. Assistant coach Mike McQueary: gone for now, and thinking about suing. Two other university officials also are gone, and face criminal charges that they lied and covered up the Sandusky affair. Other state and federal investigations are ongoing. Even the Second Mile is closing its doors and transferring its assets to a charity in Texas.
Last week, the boys' stories revealed even more ripples of damage. It was not easy to watch eight young men discuss the intimate details of sexual acts they said were performed on them before they were old enough to grasp the significance. They were indelibly marked by the experience. Two said that Sandusky's shirtless bear hugs left them with an abiding aversion to chest hair.
Sandusky admits showering with boys but denies the child-sex accusations. His lawyers will begin their defense of him on Monday. It appears to be an uphill battle and it is not yet certain whether he will testify. Defense attorney Joe Amendola may present evidence about a condition known as Histrionic Personality Disorder. Symptoms include attention seeking, a flair for drama, inappropriate seductiveness and sexual acting out.
During the first week, though, the courtroom truly belonged to the Sandusky Eight -- the young men who said they were seduced, molested and betrayed. In just four days, they told an unforgettable story about a man who called himself "Tickle Monster" and "The Great Pretender." They said he blew "raspberries" on their bellies, spooned with them on a basement waterbed and soaped them up in Penn State's locker room showers. One testified that Sandusky picked him up in the shower from behind, saying "I'm gonna squeeze your guts out."
The testimony led Tom Kline, the lawyer for Alleged Victim No. 5, to observe: "It's just remarkable how many children one man shower with."
There was more: Sandusky wrote another boy "creepy love letters," according to testimony, and completed a summer school project for him. He followed yet another boy home in his car after the ninth grader started to avoid him.
There are 10 women and six men, including alternates, on the jury; half have ties to Penn State. They seemed riveted by the prosecution's case, leaning forward in their seats as the Sandusky Eight and a dozen other witnesses testified. One older man in a red cardigan, nicknamed "Mr. Rogers" by reporters, crossed his arms and held a hand to his cheek as he listened in the jury box. No one on the jury so much as stole a glance at Sandusky. And no one seemed to smile or make small talk as jurors filed out of the courtroom for breaks.
The trial is seen here as a necessary part of healing and moving on. It is being held in a huge formal courtroom with squeaking wooden benches, white chair rails and gilded ceiling medallions. With its working bell tower, the Centre County Courthouse, built in 1805, looks like a throwback to simpler times.
But this case is timeless. It is dredging up what prosecutors portray as long-buried secrets that, when unleashed, give the powerless a voice against the powerful. If the jury believes the Sandusky Eight, a community's idols will fall.
For so many years, the young men said, they didn't tell a soul.
"Who would believe you?" one explained in his testimony on Thursday. "He's an important guy. Everybody knows him. He was a football coach. Who would believe kids?"