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Archive for Friday, December 9, 2011

Accuser raises questions about Sandusky’s wife

December 9, 2011

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— Grand jury reports alleging child sex abuse by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky are also raising questions about whether his wife knew about his alleged pattern of preying on boys — or how she couldn't have known.

One accuser told the grand jury that Dottie Sandusky was home when he screamed for help while her husband sexually assaulted him in a basement bedroom.

But Dottie Sandusky broke more than a month of silence Thursday, calling the accusations against her husband false and declaring that she continues to believe that he is innocent.

Lawyers not involved in the case say that evidence made public so far does not prove Dottie Sandusky did anything wrong — for instance, there's no proof she heard the alleged screams — although prosecutors almost certainly are interested in talking to her.

"Certainly if the activities are alleged to have occurred in the home, yeah, the prosecutors are going to figure, 'Jeez, you were in the house at the time this was going on? You must have known something,'" said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh and a law professor at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. "I would certainly think there would be interest in talking to her."

Jerry Sandusky, 67, faces criminal accusations from 10 young men who claim he molested them when they were boys in his home, on Penn State property and elsewhere. The scandal has provoked strong criticism that Penn State officials didn't do enough to stop the alleged assaults and prompted the ouster of Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno and the school's longtime president, Graham Spanier.

The Sanduskys, who raised six adopted children together, have maintained that they would never do anything to hurt a child. Jerry Sandusky has vowed to fight the case and, in interviews with NBC and The New York Times, he said he showered and horsed around with boys but never sexually abused them.

It is rare that a family member testifies against another in court, Antkowiak and others say. And while many states protect spouses from having to testify against each other, that provision is not in force in Pennsylvania in cases of violence or sex abuse against children.

Prosecutors could ask a court to compel Dottie Sandusky to testify against her husband. But lawyers say that it's unlikely that they would do so, since she's unlikely to incriminate him, and in any case prosecutors may feel that they don't need her testimony to prove their case.

It is also possible, others say, that all of this may have played out in secret: She may already have asked for a grant of immunity or she may have already testified before the grand jury.

A spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which is prosecuting Sandusky, declined to comment.

Still, Dottie Sandusky almost certainly is facing lawsuits that lawyers say are likely to bankrupt her if she doesn't seek a divorce.

"Make no mistake, Dottie has a financial interest in this because once these criminal cases are decided, there will be civil suits by each and every victim, and those victims' suits will go after all the (Sanduskys') assets," said Susan Moss, a New York City-based family and divorce lawyer.

So far, at least one lawsuit has been filed. It names Jerry Sandusky, Penn State and the nonprofit that Sandusky founded for troubled youth, The Second Mile, through which he is said to have met his alleged victims, but not Sandusky's wife.

Dottie Sandusky, 68, had kept largely out of sight since the first charges were filed against her husband Nov. 5.

She spoke out in a statement released through her husband's lawyer a day after a Wednesday grand jury report detailed the claims of two new accusers, among them the testimony of one who said he cried out for her help while Sandusky assaulted him in a basement bedroom.

"I am so sad anyone would make such a terrible accusation which is absolutely untrue," she said.

The alleged victim testified Jerry Sandusky kept him in a basement bedroom during overnight visits to the home, fed him there, forced him to perform oral sex and attempted on at least 16 occasions to anally penetrate him, sometimes successfully.

"The victim testified that on at least one occasion he screamed for help, knowing that Sandusky's wife was upstairs, but no one ever came to help him," the grand jury report said.

He described a pattern of sexual assaults by Sandusky over a period of years, but testified that he had "barely any" contact with Sandusky's wife during his numerous visits in which he stayed in the basement, the grand jury said.

Dottie Sandusky disputed his claims.

"No child who ever visited our home was ever forced to stay in our basement and fed there," she said in her statement. "All the kids who visited us ate with us and our kids and other guests when they were at our home."

One civil litigation lawyer who read Wednesday's grand jury report, Joseph T. Musso in Alexandria, Va., said he saw nothing in the victim's statement that on its face would give rise to criminal or civil liability for Dottie Sandusky.

But, Musso said, "ordinary people will likely ask themselves, 'How does she not know what's going on?'"

The explanation may be complicated.

It is not unusual for family members to shut out or deny the abuse of others at the hands of a family member, analysts say.

For instance, they can do it out of fear, hopelessness, helplessness or psychosis, said Harold J. Bursztajn, co-founder of the Program in Psychiatry and the Law at Harvard Medical School.

"You have a variety of flavors of denial," Bursztajn said.

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