BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Even if you did not know that Mike McQueary was a football coach, it would have been your first guess as you watched him on the witness stand. He commanded the space. He is, in many ways, Jerry Sandusky's most difficult accuser — a man without motive, a witness with no reason to lie — and his testimony Tuesday was powerfully emphatic.
As he told defense attorney Karl Rominger, who was almost bullied at times by McQueary during cross-examination, "I saw something horrific. That's why the night sticks in my mind, sir."
Rominger picked at the edges of his story. There are a lot of edges to be picked at, mostly because McQueary has told the story more than once, and because he emailed people to defend himself when news reports initially portrayed him as having done nothing to stop Sandusky from allegedly assaulting a young boy in a shower in the Penn State football building.
But McQueary, who was a graduate assistant football coach at the time of the incident in 2001, held firm to his story. He explained an initial confusion about the date of the alleged assault. He became exasperated when Rominger harped on the fact that, at various times, McQueary has estimated the age of the boy as "8 to 13," "10 to 12" and "around 10."
"If you want to argue about 9, 10, 11, 12, the fact is he had sex with a minor," McQueary said.
At which point, Rominger changed the subject.
The power of McQueary's personality offered a sharp, and kind of sad, contrast to the day's first witness: alleged victim No. 1, the second of Sandusky's accusers to testify, a thin, shaking 18-year-old who sobbed on the stand as he alleged that Sandusky had sexually assaulted him when he was 12 or 13 years old.
A courtroom watched in silence as he dropped his face into a tissue, struggling with each word at times, with each breath, with the memory of what he said had been repeated assaults.
He said they happened mostly in a basement bedroom in Sandusky's home, his wife upstairs.
"After rubbing and cracking my back and rubbing his hands down the back of my shorts and the blowing on the stomach, he ..."
Here, the boy began sniffling.
" ... he ..."
And then a long, painful pause.
" ... he put ..."
Then there was crying, sobbing, shaking of his head.
" ... he put his mouth on my privates."
Asked why he had not resisted, alleged victim No. 1 said, "I spaced. I didn't know what to do with all the thoughts running through my head. I just kind of blacked out and didn't want it to happen."
As sad and vivid as that image was, the sight of McQueary — a big man, a former college quarterback, with a head of red hair familiar to anyone who watched him work the sidelines as an assistant coach near the late Joe Paterno — was, in some ways, even more memorable.
His voice was clear. His answers were consistent. He conceded nothing significant.
He told the story of watching the movie "Rudy," and then deciding to go into the office to look at recruiting tapes. Walking into the locker room, he said, he heard noises.
"Skin-on-skin slapping sounds," McQueary said. "Yes, sex. Rhythmic slapping sounds."
Standing at his locker, he said, he glanced over his shoulder and, in the mirror, was able to see into a nearby shower. He said he saw the unidentified boy, with his hands on the wall. He said Sandusky was right behind him, in contact with the boy. Both were naked.
"An extremely sexual position," McQueary said
Almost in disbelief, McQueary said, he walked a few feet so he could look directly into the shower. He saw the same sight.
Panicked, McQueary said, he did not know what to do. He settled on slamming his locker loudly to make his presence known. Then he went back and looked into the shower again. This time, he said, Sandusky and the boy were standing several feet apart. He made eye contact with both of them, then left.
McQueary then called his father, who told him to leave the building and come to his house. There, he told the story to his father and a family friend.
"[I] did not get overly, unbelievably, into detail, but made sure he knew it was extremely, extremely wrong and sexual," McQueary said. "I said, 'You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know what was going on.' "
Later, he said, he "made sure he knew it was sexual, it was wrong, it was perverse."
How explicit he was with the family friend, and with Paterno, and with other university officials, has been the subject of much debate. It will be brought up again. In his opening statement, defense attorney Joe Amendola said his side wasn't saying McQueary was a liar, only that he jumped to conclusions.
At that point, though, they had not heard the forcefulness of the man on the witness stand. Because now, if their hope was that McQueary's story would unravel around its inconsistent edges, they need a new hope.