BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- They've lent their voices, their support to a man who has received little of it in the past seven months. The last two days, 16 character witnesses have testified on behalf of Jerry Sandusky.
They're an eclectic group. Two of them, Dick Anderson and Booker Brooks, coached football with him. One, Lance Mehl, played football for him. Another, James Martin, was a national champion wrestler who received letters from Mr. Sandusky.
Several participated in The Second Mile, and another worked with the organization and said she felt connected to him like few others. The last time they talked on the phone, she spoke to him for four hours.
"I couldn't believe I had this ability to talk to a person who shared so much of the same interests," said Elaine Steinbacher. "I can't even talk to my husband for four minutes."
Her comments drew an audibly warm reaction from the courtroom. There haven't been many of those instances during Mr. Sandusky's sex abuse trial.
To Jack Willenbrock, much like his other staunch supporters, Mr. Sandusky was still a figure to respect and admire. He said he tuned out the media coverage and didn't listen to others who might have made remarks about Mr. Sandusky. Mr. Willenbrock, a former Penn State professor, used to be a neighbor of the Sandusky family. He said God should be the one to make decisions about his friend.
"We were not going to be the ones to judge what Jerry had been doing," Mr. Willenbrock said.
Defense attorney Joseph Amendola asked nearly every character witness if Mr. Sandusky, before the charges, was known to have a reputation for being honest, truthful, peaceful, law-abiding and nonviolent.
When Mr. Willenbrock responded, he punctuated it by asking, "Would you like some examples?" He started to share a story about one Christmas when McKean County Senior Judge John Cleland cut him off, saying it wasn't within the scope of questioning. He had to do the same to Ms. Steinbacher.
Just like she had on the phone with Mr. Sandusky, she seemed primed to talk about the man for a long time. She's known him for years. In college, Ms. Steinbacher said, she tried to set him up with her friends.
Before Judge Cleland told her to stop going in depth, she was able to say the words that the Sandusky supporters still believe, even as the shadow of 51 counts of abuse hangs over the man.
"We all just revere Jerry," she said. "We all just think the world of him."
First Published June 20, 2012 4:00 AM