By M. Alex Johnson and Kimberly Kaplan
Former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison Tuesday for abusing 10 boys he met over 15 years through his charity for troubled children.
Sandusky — who was defensive coordinator and for many years the presumed heir-apparent to legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno — could have faced as long as 400 years for his convictions on 45 counts of child sexual abuse.
But McKean County Common Pleas Court Judge John Cleland, who was brought in to hear the trial after all of Centre County’s judges recused themselves, told Sandusky that at age 68, he would be in prison “for the rest of your life.”
“The crime is not only what you did to their bodies but to their psyches and their souls and the assault to the well-being of the larger community in which we all live,” Cleland said.
Sandusky’s lead attorney, Joe Amendola, told reporters outside court that he would file an appeal within 10 days, saying he hadn’t had enough time to prepare an adequate defense.
Three of Sandusky’s victims addressed the court, some of them speaking tearfully to Sandusky. They told of how they had looked up at Sandusky as a mentor, only to have him betray their trust.
“You were the person in my life who was supposed to be a role model, teach honor, respect and accountability, and instead you did terrible things that screwed up my life,” said one of the victims, whom NBC News isn’t identifying.
“You had the chance to plead guilty and spare us the testimony,” he said. “Rather than take the accountability, you decided to try to attack us as if we had done something wrong.”
Another said: “I have tried to think of the words to describe how Jerry Sandusky has impacted my life. There are no words adequate to express the pain and misery he has inflicted in the past, present and future.
Lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan applauded the victims’ courage to “speak truthfully” and condemned Jerry Sandusky for his unwillingness to accept responsibility.
“He promised to be my friend and mentor. Then came the ultimate betrayal and deeds. He humiliated me beyond description.”
For his part, Sandusky — as he did in a surprise audio statement Monday night on the Penn State student radio station — insisted that “I didn’t do these alleged disgusting acts.”
Saying he had been advised against speaking at length, Sandusky told Cleland that “as I began to relive everything, I remember my feelings. So many people were hurt, and my eyes filled with tears. It was a horrible time in life to witness, to listen to, be a part of.”
“Many moments I have spent looking for a purpose,” he said. “Maybe it will help others — some vulnerable children who may have been abused may not be as a result of all the publicity — but I’m not sure about it. I would hope that it would happen.
“I would cherish the opportunity to be a little candle for others as my life goes on as they have been a huge light to me.”
After the hearing, Senior Deputy Attorney General Joseph McGettigan, who prosecuted the case for the state, called Sandusky’s comments “banal self-delusion completely untethered from reality.”
“It was, in short, ridiculous,” he said.
Sandusky alleges massive conspiracy
Wearing a red prison jumpsuit and appearing notably thinner than before he was convicted in June, Sandusky was transported to Centre County Court from jail in a sheriff’s patrol car shortly before the hearing. His wife, Dottie, was in attendance.
Sandusky’s statement echoed many of the ideas — some of them word for word — that he broached in his surprise statement Monday night, in which he blamed a widespread conspiracy among police, university administrators and the media for his conviction.
After the hearing, Amendola alluded to that theory, alleging that there was “an undercurrent” in some parts of state government to bring down Penn State because of the power Paterno had amassed in 46 years as head football coach.
“Folks, my understanding is for years opponents had ongoing battles with the state Legislature over funding,” Amendola said. “Penn State always held itself over and above” other state institutions, which rankled some officials, he said.
But in sentencing Sandusky on Tuesday, Cleland called that theory “unbelievable.”
In a statement, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said: “Our thoughts today, as they have been for the last year, go out to the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse. 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.”
The statement reflected how deeply the scandal rocked Penn State and Centre County.
Paterno, who was a revered figure representing integrity in college football, was fired Nov. 9 amid allegations that he didn’t properly report concerns about Sandusky to authorities. He died in January at age 85.
University President Graham Spanier resigned in November. Athletic Director Tim Curley is on administrative leave, and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz retired. Curley and Schultz face separate trials on charges that they lied to a grand jury about what they knew.
This article was written by M. Alex Johnson and Kimberly Kaplan and originally published on nbcnews