Jerry Sandusky trial: Wife Dottie Sandusky defends her husband

Seven months after Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged as a serial child molester, his attorneys presented the first full day of his defense, bringing to the stand his supportive wife, Dottie, a rash of loyal friends and a psychologist who said he’d recently diagnosed Sandusky with a condition called histrionic personality disorder.

The defense also called two state troopers to the stand and tried to show that they had coached a key prosecution witness into embellishing his claim of abuse by Sandusky.

The former Penn State assistant coach’s contention is that innocent behavior has been mischaracterized as abuse — or that allegations have been fabricated — by witnesses who may be hoping for a big payday in civil lawsuits against the defendant, the university and the Second Mile, the charity Sandusky founded to help troubled youths.

One defense witness Tuesday testified that his former neighbor, the mother of an alleged victim, said that, after suing Sandusky, “I’ll own his house.”

None of the day’s testimony, however, was obviously compelling enough to clear Sandusky of all the charges against him. The challenge for the defense team is that the prosecution has hit Sandusky with an all-out blitz of accusers — eight men who last week testified to various types of sex abuse by Sandusky when they were in their early teens or younger.

The witnesses have told stories that have common elements, of Sandusky establishing a father-figure role, followed by increased physical contact and then sexual assault.

It was a complicated, long day in court Tuesday with multiple story lines for the jurors to follow. Many have been taking notes to keep track of a case that involves 51 counts related to sex abuse of 10 boys, eight of whom are now adults. Sandusky has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

It is possible he will take the stand Wednesday. The defense team, which expects to be finished by midday Wednesday, started its presentation late Monday morning but put forth only about 100 minutes of testimony from character witnesses before the judge, citing non-specific technical problems, adjourned early.

That made Tuesday a busy day in court, with Dottie Sandusky’s appearance the dramatic highlight. She supported her husband unreservedly. She said she never knew of any inappropriate behavior by him toward any of the eight accusers. She spoke in a slightly quavering voice but remained composed throughout her 45 minutes on the stand.

Asked whether her basement — where witnesses said they were assaulted — is soundproof, she said no.

“How is your hearing?” defense attorney Joseph Amendola asked.

“I think it’s pretty good,” she said. “I hear lots of noises.”

She said her husband was often absent on trips and worked very long hours, even after he retired from Penn State in 1999 and devoted himself to the Second Mile charity.

“It was rough, it was rough, because Jerry, he was not around a lot,” she said.

She proffered negative assessments of the personalities of a couple of the accusers.

Of the prosecution witness known in court as “Victim 4,” who testified that he was abused by the defendant some 15 years ago when he was a boy, Dottie Sandusky said: “He was very demanding. And he was very conniving. He wanted his way. He didn’t listen a lot.”

Of another witness, “Victim 9,” she said: “He was a charmer. He knew what to say, when to say it.”

At the close of her testimony, prosecutor Joseph McGettigan asked whether she knew of any reason why the witnesses would lie about her husband.

She was silent for a moment and turned and looked at her husband, who sat about 15 feet away.

She turned back to the prosecutor and said, “I — I don’t know. I don’t know what it would be for.”

Support for Sandusky

The morning began with affirmations of support for Sandusky by his friends and neighbors, several of whom have sat through every day of the trial. They included Jack Willenbrock, a neighbor who said his children grew up with the Sandusky kids.

“Among our children, among our grandchildren, Jerry Sandusky is a father figure,” Willenbrock said.

Another friend, Joyce Porter, testified, “All the people I know who know Jerry think he’s a wonderful man.”

Then came the troopers. Amendola played a tape in court in which the troopers, who were investigating Sandusky before charges were filed, met with the man who would eventually become known as Victim 4.

“You’re doing very well,” trooper Joseph Leiter told him. “You have been repeating word for word pretty much what a lot of people have already told us. . . . There’s a pretty well-defined progression in the way that [Sandusky] operates and still operates to some degree.”

Leiter said other people had come forward with stories of oral sex and rape. He urged the man to be more forthcoming and describe in graphic detail what happened to him.

Questioned on the witness stand, Leiter said his interviewing technique was professional. “Each of these accusers was very, very seriously injured and very concerned,” he said, “and we had told them, especially prior to going to the grand jury, that they wouldn’t be alone, that there were others.”

The defense also called to the stand Benjamin Andreozzi, the private attorney for Victim 4. Andreozzi was in the room during his client’s interview by the state troopers. Under extended questioning about whether a guilty verdict would have an impact on a decision to file a suit, Andreozzi answered: “It could impact. Yes, it could.”

Competing testimony

Most of the afternoon was devoted to the testimony from dueling mental experts. First came defense witness Elliot Atkins, a psychologist, who testified that he had examined Sandusky in late May and given him a couple of personality tests. He said he had also read grand jury testimony, as well as Sandusky’s 2001 memoir, “Touched.” Atkins concluded that Sandusky has histrionic personality disorder, a condition characterized by excessive emotionality, need for attention and approval from others, and “inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior.”

Atkins was permitted to testify only in a narrow sense to show that this condition explained the letters that Sandusky had written to Victim 4, who had called them “creepy love letters.”

It was unclear how the personality-disorder defense could help Sandusky when the time comes for the jury to deliberate. In his instructions to the jury before Atkins’s testimony, the judge indicated that the psychologist’s analysis should not be interpreted as excusing any behavior.

The prosecution called its own expert witness, who derided the Atkins diagnosis. John O’Brien, a psychiatrist, said Sandusky is a high-achieving person who, as a longtime deputy to the much-more-famous coach Joe Paterno, showed no sign of having a personality disorder that included an overpowering need to be the center of attention.

O’Brien said the letters written by Sandusky to Victim 4 were written in an adolescent tone. “They’re actually, in my opinion, highly manipulative,” he said of the letters.

By day’s end, with the jury gone and lawyers milling about making plans for Wednesday, Sandusky cheerfully chatted with some friends who had come to support him.

“A good day,” one of the defense attorneys said to Sandusky, who flashed a toothy smile.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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