In normal years, the biggest happening in this central Pennsylvania town is the Historic Bellefonte Cruise, a classic-car exhibition that includes a Friday-night sock hop. Population 6,187, Bellefonte is frozen in time, with a downtown straight out of a Frank Capra film, its epicenter a Greek-columned courthouse on a hill. As one local explained to this reporter stationed on a sidewalk bench last Friday, "Once all the action moved to State College"—the home of Penn State University, 10 miles southwest—"this was the place that Centre County forgot." This was in no way meant as a lament.
This is an article from the July 2, 2012 issue
But for two weeks in June, the darkest chapter in State College history—the 10-victim sexual molestation case against 68-year-old former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky—returned to Bellefonte for its denouement at trial. This anti-modern idyll, with an Elk's Lodge and a Loyal Order of Moose within blocks of the courthouse, was disrupted by a cutting-edge, national media invasion. Thirty-five television trucks and vans, each pulling power from a large Aggreko generator, surrounded the court, its square occupied by tented makeshift studios. This circus even had a sideshow: A SWAT team perched itself atop a senior citizen's home across the street, eyes on a violent crime-spree trial in an auxiliary court. "Sandusky," one cop explained, "isn't the one who threatened a judge."
No, but Sandusky's damage was done. He had used his influence at Penn State and at his children's charity, the Second Mile, to meet young boys and assault them over 15 years. He appeared delusional at trial, smiling during serious segments of the prosecution's closing arguments. Even Sandusky's own attorney referred to him as an "overgrown child," naive to his predicament. Found guilty at 9:57 p.m. on Friday evening, on 45 of 48 counts, which could result in a maximum sentence of 442 years, he remained silent, declining to comment as he was led up the block to a low-slung brick jailhouse.
Noisemaking was left to the onlookers. A crowd of hundreds on the courthouse's front steps roared when it learned of the verdict. A woman's scream of "You sick bastard!" pierced the night as Sandusky emerged from the rear of the building. And reporters scrambled to write through the revelry.
SI's coverage was composed from the aforementioned bench, amid bar hoppers who howled jailward, wishing monstrous things upon the monster Sandusky.
A prankster in a costume of the Pedobear, which originated as a pedophile-mocking Internet meme, danced and posed for photos on the corner of Allegheny and High Streets. As three young boys, one in a Penn State T-shirt, gathered around the Pedobear, their camera-wielding mother took pause. "Oh, God," she said. "Something about this is wrong."
Her hesitancy captured the moment. The victims had justice. Sandusky had a life sentence. It was a historic conviction. But could anyone truly celebrate when the details remained so disturbing? She winced, and snapped the picture.