Rich Hofmann: Despite Sandusky’s wife, defense falters

Testimony from Dottie Sandusky (center) aided her husband's case, but a defense expert wound up admitting that the defendant was deceptive. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Testimony from Dottie Sandusky (center) aided her husband's case, but a defense expert wound up admitting that the defendant was deceptive. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 21, 2012

BELLEFONTE, PA. —It was just after 4 p.m. on Jerry Sandusky's best day since the trial began.

The courtroom was warm, and it was full, and the people inside it had heard the first somewhat-effective elements of the defense of the former Penn State football coach charged with 51 counts of sexually assaulting 10 young boys.

In the morning, two investigators tripped over themselves on the stand, and tripped over their stories, and mischaracterized words that happen to have been tape-recorded, and gave the defense an opportunity at least to make the assertion that one of the alleged victims was coached into telling the story he eventually told.

In the afternoon, Dottie Sandusky, Jerry's wife, offered 40 minutes of placid, effective testimony that was more than just the last in a string of character witnesses who have been presented. She plausibly rebutted at least one of the allegations — the claim that she walked in on an assault in a hotel room at the Alamo Bowl.

But then, after Dottie left the stand and after a bench conference, Judge John Cleland announced that the prosecution would call a witness out of order. And with that, the defense's day was ruined.

The witness' name is John S. O'Brien, a psychiatrist who examined Sandusky on Father's Day, and in a half-hour on the stand, he eviscerated the defense's claim that Sandusky is suffering from something called Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Not only that, O'Brien was allowed to testify that the tests showed just how deceptive a man Sandusky is, and how the "creepy love letters" written by Sandusky to one of the alleged victims were not the result of a personality disorder but were, in O'Brien's opinion, "highly manipulative."

Oh, and that — also in his opinion — there was the possibility that the testing showed Sandusky was really suffering from a "psychosexual" disorder with regard to adolescents.

If the jury had not wilted, and was still attentive, this case really is over.

It was only because the defense tried out this last-minute, hocus-pocus histrionic stuff that O'Brien was allowed to examine Sandusky and testify. He said on the stand that he makes $450 an hour, and he is worth every cent of it. In a case without any CSI elements, this psychological discussion gave the jurors at least a little bit of science, if they wanted it — and almost none of it went Sandusky's way.

Under cross-examination, the defense psychologist, Elliot Atkins, was forced to admit that one of the two standard tests given to Sandusky showed no indication that he suffered from Histrionic Personality Disorder, and that the other one listed it only as a possibility.

Worse, though, Atkins was forced to acknowledge that both of those tests showed that Sandusky was being deceptive when he answered some of the questions. Remember, this is Sandusky's guy doing the testifying, telling the jury that the guy lied to make himself look good. He said, "There were many responses that [Sandusky] gave ... that he was trying to present himself in a better light."

So even Sandusky's expert had to admit that the man is deceptive. Then the prosecution's expert added that he not only was manipulative, but could be suffering from a psychosexual disorder. Oh, and that far from having Histrionic Personality Disorder, Sandusky's long career as a Penn State assistant coach, and later when he ran the Second Mile charity that he founded, showed someone who "was an individual who kept all the balls in the air" of a busy life, who never exhibited the distress such a disorder would cause.

The whole thing was a disaster. And it spoiled a good day for Sandusky. The two investigators who testified in the morning really were ineffective as witnesses. They couldn't even agree on whether they had discussed their testimony in a courthouse hallway.

One of them said he never shared details about other alleged victims, or how many other alleged victims there were, with one of the men being interviewed. Then, the jury listened to a contradictory tape recording in which the investigator told the young man, "I want to let you know, you're not the first victim that we've spoken to," and that other victims had described "actual oral sex" and something "classified as a rape."

So the defense had that going for it, at least a hint of coaching. It also had Dottie Sandusky. She said she never heard a child scream for help from her basement, as was testified by one alleged victim. She also offered another version of one of the case's most infamous allegations: that she walked into a San Antonio hotel room when, according to alleged victim No. 4, Sandusky was attempting to force him to perform oral sex in the shower, threatening to send him home if he didn't.

In her testimony, Dottie Sandusky said she walked in on the two of them in the hotel room when they were fully clothed. She said, "I came in one day and they were ... they were standing there. I said, ‘What's going on?' because Jerry was very upset."

It turned out, she said, that the alleged victim — who had originally asked that they spend $50 for a ticket to a luncheon for the boy — was now refusing to go. She said, "Jerry knew I would be very upset because we spent the money."

Dottie would go on to describe alleged victim No. 4 as "very demanding" and "very conniving." Another was said to be "very clingy" and "would never look people in the eye." Another was "a charmer" who "knew what to say and when to say it."

But why would they lie? Why would former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary lie about witnessing a rape? What would be the reason?

"I ... I don't know what it would be," Dottie said.

Even with that, her testimony had been good. The day had been good for Sandusky. But then the defense lost the duel of the experts. 


Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com, read his blog, The Idle Rich, at philly.com/TheIdleRich, or follow @theidlerich on Twitter. For recent columns, go to philly.com/RichHofmann.

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