By Ian Simpson
BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A jury found former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 child sex abuse charges on Friday, ending a trial that rocked U.S. college football and renewed attention on pedophilia in America.
Sandusky, who faces potentially hundreds of years in prison, was escorted immediately out of the courthouse in handcuffs and taken into an awaiting sheriff's cruiser.
A large crowd that gathered outside the Centre County Courthouse in central Pennsylvania burst into cheers upon learning of the news.
One of the victims who had testified burst into tears as the verdict was read. Sandusky, meanwhile, stood and faced the foreman and appeared expressionless, tucking his hands into his pockets.
His wife, Dottie, sitting behind him, showed no emotion.
"They're devastated," defense attorney Joe Amendola said of Sandusky's relatives, "but they've been devastated ever since these charges came to light."
Amendola said he was examining the grounds for an appeal.
"Obviously he (Sandusky) was distraught and disappointed (after the verdict), but he didn't say anything verbally," Amendola told CNN.
The decision came after 21 hours of deliberation over two days by a jury of seven women and five men. Nine of the 16 jurors and alternates had ties to Pennsylvania State University, and the final days of the trial drew large crowds to the courthouse.
The white-haired former coach faced 48 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period, sometimes at Penn State facilities. The jury convicted him of 25 felonies and 20 misdemeanors.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly praised the eight victims, all now adults, who came forward to testify "not only to the jury and a packed courtroom ... but also the entire world."
"One of the recurring themes of the victims' testimony was ‘Who would believe a kid?' And the answer is, ‘We here in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, will believe a kid," Kelly told reporters. "A jury of 12 people in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, most definitely would and did believe a kid."
Onlookers alternately cheered and booed statements that lawyers made to the press.
When Amendola stood by Sandusky and said "there are a lot of people sitting in jails across this country who are innocent," he was greeted with a chorus of boos.
When he said any forthcoming sentence was tantamount to a life sentence, the crowd broke out in cheers.
Amendola had said Sandusky was ruined by overzealous prosecutors and lies by accusers hoping for a big payday from civil lawsuits.
A shocking new revelation hit shortly after jury deliberations began on Thursday when a lawyer for Matt Sandusky, the coach's adopted son, said Matt Sandusky had met with prosecutors to tell them he had been sexually abused by the former coach. Matt Sandusky, 33, was adopted after living with Sandusky and his wife Dottie as a foster child.
The Centre Country grand jury indictment of Sandusky on November 5 set off a firestorm that led Penn State trustees to fire legendary head coach Joe Paterno for failing to more forcefully intervene when he learned of the accusations years earlier.
The November 9 firing was a humiliating way for Paterno to end a career in which he won more games than any coach in U.S. major college football and built Penn State into a powerhouse that generates tens of millions of dollars of profit each year.
Paterno died two months later, on January 22, of lung cancer.
"The community owes a measure of gratitude to the jurors for their diligent service," said a statement from the Paterno family. "Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims and their families.
A former Penn State assistant coach, Mike McQueary, told the jury that he had seen Sandusky abusing a young boy in a football locker room in 2001. He reported the incident to Paterno and campus authorities but neither police nor child protection services were informed.
Prosecutors accuse Sandusky of abusing at least three more victims after that incident.
As the Sandusky shockwaves spread, sex abuse hotlines and lawyers saw a surge in calls and emails.
To defend himself against the media onslaught, Sandusky gave an interview to NBC in November that was a public relations disaster. He only haltingly denied he was sexually attracted to young boys and admitted to horseplay and showering with them.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta, Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker)