Editor's note: This story contains graphic descriptions of alleged sexual abuse.
Bellefonte, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- 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, the witness added, 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 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 can 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?"
Another said that when he finally told on Sandusky, nobody believed him at first. At school, he said, he was viewed as a bad kid and was admonished, "Jerry Sandusky has a heart of gold. He'd never do anything like that."
Even Joe Miller, a high school coach who said he walked in on Sandusky in a compromising position with a boy, didn't want to over think what he saw. Why?
"Jerry Sandusky was a saint," he testified.
Who are the accusers?
The accusers, as they are sometimes called, seemed to share common traits as boys - toothy grins, big eyes and wiry frames. Testimony has revealed a bit more about their personalities and their family histories. Three lived in public housing; three were sent to foster homes; one lived in a trailer with his mother, who worked in a sports bar.
Most never knew their fathers. School guidance counselors referred them to the Second Mile, and nearly all fell under Sandusky's sway during their second year in the program.
They grew up hiding their secrets. One went to Bible college, and another to prison. A third joined the Army National Guard. One is a father, another is about to become one. Most have obtained lawyers and are receiving counseling. In several cases, the first person they told about what they say happened to them was a girlfriend.
CNN generally does not identify the alleged victims of sex crimes and will continue to respect the young witnesses' wish for privacy. Their stories -- and allegations -- briefly follow:
Alleged Victim No. 1 is 18 and his case launched the investigation. His mother became alarmed when he started asking questions about where to find sex offender registries online. A wrestler who was good at math, he met Sandusky when he was 12, during his second year at Second Mile. He said Sandusky "cracked" his back and kissed him in 2005, and later initiated oral sex. He said he stayed at Sandusky's house more than 100 times. But as he grew more uncomfortable with the physical contact, he started to hide from the coach. His grades dropped, he lost interest in sports and he began wetting the bed and getting in fights.
No. 3 is tall and strapping and, at 25, already losing his hair. He is in the Army National Guard and spent a year in Iraq. He was referred to the Second Mile in 1998 from the Big Brothers program. He lived with his mother and a sister and "had no idea" where his father was. He said he spent the night at Sandusky's about 50 times between 1999 and 2001, and showered with him at the gym. Although he felt uncomfortable, he never complained. "I was enjoying the things I was getting too much." Those perks included seats at football games and nights spent playing pool, shuffleboard and video games. The relationship with Sandusky ended when he was sent into foster care. "I prayed he would call me and get me out of there, maybe adopt me, but he never did." He said he felt abandoned, "enraged and hurt."
At 28, No. 4 was the oldest to testify, and was the prosecution's first witness. He was referred to the Second Mile in 1996 or 1997 because he was having problems at home with his stepfather. He spoke in a calm, resolute manner, describing a long, close relationship with Sandusky in which he accompanied him to bowl games and appeared in coaching videos before pulling away and becoming involved in other programs. He said Sandusky treated him like a son in front of others, but like a girlfriend when they were alone. He cited repeated instances of oral sex. When he tried to distance himself from Sandusky, prosecutor McGettigan said, the coach acted like a teenager going through a painful breakup. The young man kept Sandusky's letters and gifts, which were shown to the jury.
No. 5, who is 23, was referred to the Second Mile to improve his English, and attended from 1999 to 2001. He never spent the night in the Sandusky home, but worked out with him at Penn State. He said Sandusky exposed himself in the sauna in 2001, when he was 13. He cried as he recounted how Sandusky threw soap on him in the shower, pressed his body against his back and forced him to touch his genitals. He squirmed away, which appeared to anger Sandusky. Sandusky never called him again.
Tall, good looking and impeccably dressed, No. 6 recently graduated from a Bible college and lives in Colorado. He was an avid, 11-year-old Penn State football fan when he was referred to the Second Mile in 1998; he is now 25. It was a thrill for him to meet Sandusky, who invited him to work out in 1998. He recounted a bear hug in the showers, but said he has blacked out what happened and doesn't even remember getting home that day. He said it made him uncomfortable, "But it was Jerry Sandusky, and I didn't want to make him mad." He did not spend time alone again with Sandusky, but continued to go to nearly every Penn State home game for several years. "I feel violated," he said. "I've gone through a lot of emotional roller-coaster."
No. 7, now 27, was having problems in school when he was referred to the Second Mile. He got to know Sandusky in 1995 and started going to Penn State games with him the next year, which he thought was "pretty cool." He said not much was going on "in my home life," so going to the games was "very, very special to me." He remembers being groped and caressed by Sandusky, and rolling away from him and trying to avoid contact. He was hurt when Sandusky cooled toward him. "He had favorites and they got special treatment. I was pretty upset about it and I was resigned to the fact that I would go to Penn State games and that would be it."
No. 9 is 18, and was referred to the Second Mile in 2005. He lived in a trailer with his mother, who worked in a bar. His dad "wasn't around," he said. Tall and thin, almost gangly, the teen wore a white shirt and dark tie on the stand. An injured eye was covered with a medical patch. He said he agreed to hang out with Sandusky because "he was a well-known guy and he seemed nice." He testified that Sandusky performed oral sex on him and sodomized him in the basement bedroom. He cried out, but no one could hear. He said Sandusky told him he loved him, which he thought was "creepy and gross, but I was a kid, so what did I know?" Still, he spent nearly every weekend with the coach until 2008.
Now 25, No. 10 was the huskiest of the accusers. He was referred to the Second Mile in 1997. He said his father was "out of the picture." He said Sandusky attacked him the next year in the basement, performing oral sex on him while they wrestled, and attempting again in a silver sports car. He estimated he and Sandusky engaged in oral sex about five times over two years. He said Sandusky threatened him that he'd stay in foster care and never see his family again if he told anyone. He has spent time in state prison for robbery.
Perks, with strings attached
Sandusky supplied the boys with tickets to football games, locker room visits with the team, athletic gear and, perhaps most important of all -- attention. He bought several of them gifts, including sports gear, jerseys, games and computers. He even bought one boy dress clothes so he could accompany the Sandusky family to church.
It made kids who had little going for them feel "cool," as several of the young men testified.
"He made me feel like I was part of something, like a family," said No. 3, who said he spent the night at Sandusky's home and was fondled many times on the basement waterbed. Why did he put up with it?
"He gave me things that I had never had before. I just didn't want to give any of it up." He said he loved Sandusky, who told him "that he loved me, that I was unconditionally loved, like a family."
It was something No. 3 said he wasn't getting at home.
Sandusky made the others feel special, loved and important as well. But as the eight young men said last week in court, it came at a price. Jokes and "touchy-feely" hugs turned into wandering hands, they said, and in most of the cases, something much more sexual. Sandusky did not ask permission, the witnesses said. And they didn't voice their objections. Some tried to squirm away. Others simply shut down mentally and "just rolled with it," as one witness said.
Water became a common theme -- groping down shorts in a swimming pool, naked bear hugs and soap fights in a locker room shower, goodnight cuddling and more on the basement waterbed.
It usually began in the car, on the way to football games, tailgate parties and family picnics, according to testimony. Sandusky's hand would find a boy's knee, they said. He would squeeze and let the hand linger.
Sandusky "would put his hand on my leg, basically like I was his girlfriend," No. 4 recalled. "It freaked me out extremely bad." He added that he would push the hand away but "after a little while, it would come right back. That drove me nuts."
He wasn't the only one.
"I think the hand on the knee thing happened like right away," No. 3 testified. "That was a big thing for Jerry, rubbing the knee and the inside of the leg and tickling me."
Some said they would inch away from the hand. Others tried to avoid the passenger seat.
"When we went to games," No. 7 testified, "I would try to get as far in the back as I could so it wouldn't happen to me."
The investigation begins
Thumb through Sandusky's autobiography, "Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story," and there are photographs of some of his Second Mile protégés, particularly Nos. 3, 4 and 6. Investigators used the book to search for other alleged victims after No. 1 came forward in 2008, according to Anthony Sassano, a former Altoona police detective who now works as an agent for the Pennsylvania Attorney General.
An anonymous e-mail to the Centre Country district attorney led them to Mike McQueary, the assistant coach who reported seeing Sandusky engaging in "extremely sexual" behavior with a boy in the showers years earlier. That led to an earlier, 1998 report involving No. 6.
That case was investigated but no charges were filed. The investigating officer testified that he thought charges were warranted, but the district attorney at the time disagreed. Nonetheless, Sandusky acknowledged his "bad judgment" in showering with boys and promised to stop.
Meanwhile, a janitor who knew about another incident in the showers also came forward.
Sassano was assigned to the new case in mid-2009 and began knocking on doors in earnest.
"It was a daunting task to get these young individuals to come forward," he said, "to get them to admit they'd been abused by a man, had performed sex acts with that man."
He added, "This had been going on for a long period of time; it was kept very secretive. And people wanted to keep that secret, I believe."
Investigators obtained lists of children who had attended Second Mile programs, and, eventually, search warrants for Penn State's athletic facilities and Sandusky's home.
At Penn State, they found 20 boxes marked "Sandusky" in a storage area. In his home, photographs and other documentation also led to the witnesses who testified at the trial. The evidence includes lists of Second Mile campers with asterisks by their names.
It quickly became clear that two witnesses, Nos. 1 and 4, were special to Sandusky. They appeared with him in dozens of photos.
In their testimony, both described Sandusky's behavior as they grew up and tried to pull out of his orbit. He seemed to become clingy, acting like an adolescent going through a painful breakup.
When No. 1 tried to distance himself, Sandusky became demanding. He yelled at the boy, scaring him, but eventually, "he got the gist," No. 1 testified.
He was annoyed that Sandusky, a volunteer coach as his high school, called him out of class for one-on-one meetings, sending the wrong message that he was a troublemaker. He said he stopped playing football "because I didn't want to see him anymore."
No. 4 also testified that Sandusky grew clingy when he tried to pull away.
"I started to get older, got a girlfriend and was sick of what was happening to me," No. 4 explained. He avoided Sandusky's phone calls and hid in the closet when he stopped by.
"At first he called more," No. 4 said. "He wasn't happy. That's basically how it ended."
Both witnesses said Sandusky claimed they had used him.
No. 4 read excerpts from a letters Sandusky sent, which he called "creepy love letters."
In one, Sandusky wrote: "I know that I have made my share of mistakes. However, I hope that I will be able to say that I cared. There has been love in my heart. My wish is that you care and have love in your heart. Love never ends. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things."
No. 4 also signed a series of bogus Second Mile performance contracts, which promised spending money if he did such things as work out and get good grades in school. He said the agreements seemed designed to guarantee he'd spend more time with Sandusky as the relationship cooled in 2000. He added that he signed them "to shut him up."
In the Penn State storage area, investigators found a typed draft of a story prosecutors say Sandusky wrote. In it, Sandusky appears to be pleading with the young man:
"Very few people know about this story, and I guess even fewer care. [No. 4] comes along, and he and Jer seem to enjoy the same experiences. They loved singing, laughing, just being themselves. Jer became attached to [No. 4], and always will be. Times were not always perfect. There were ups and downs. No matter what, there was a connection that would always last through difficult times. Life is far from perfect at this stage. Some things have come into [No. 4's] life that appear to have taken him over. For Jer, it has seemed a dark cloud. Inch by inch, the cloud has taken over. This cloud has destroyed soccer and hockey, choked smiles and laughter. Jer believes there will always be something special inside [No.4]. Jer would love to have the good times back. Jer may not be worthy, but he needs a 'best friend.' It doesn't look real good. The story will end the way [No. 4] wants it. Jer wants to be there to the end, but that's [No. 4's] call. If [No.4] ever needs him, he'll come. Jer will not forget, and always care."
As for No. 4, he testified that he put up with the groping and the sex and the neediness for years because he enjoyed the perks.
"I kind of looked at Jerry as a father figure," he said, "and I felt cool because I'm getting nice things out of it. I didn't want to lose that. I thought of myself as one of the cool kids at school. And I don't really want to admit that it's happening. I've spent so many years burying this in the back of my head."
But now, he wishes he'd come forward.
"I found out this has happened over and over and over again, forever, and I feel if I had just said something back then, this wouldn't have happened to them," he said.
"So I feel responsible for other victims."