Maureen Dowd / Dottie's day in court: 'Sarge' Sandusky defends her man, disses her rivals


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BELLEFONTE, Pa.

Her nickname is "Sarge."

"I'm strict," Dottie Sandusky told the court with a proud tilt of her chin. "I like for things to go in a certain way. We expect a lot from our kids."

Yet the main question about Sarge is why she was so lax.

The 69-year-old grandmother, married to Jerry Sandusky for 45 years, came to the witness stand Tuesday as the coach who excelled in defense continued to put up a negligible one in court.

Dottie, a small, pert woman with short gray hair and a lime-green sweater, arrived as an object of fascination. She embodies the grim mystery at the center of "this drama," as one of her friends sardonically calls it: How could everyone in the community, including those who seemed to represent the highest ideals, like Dottie Sandusky and Joe Paterno, turn a blind eye to Jerry Sandusky's aberrant behavior toward vulnerable boys? If the prosecution is right, he is an emotional sociopath who conducted a serial crime spree quite openly at Penn State and in his own home.

On the stand, Dottie Sandusky saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke only a little evil -- against the cherubic-looking boy, now a tightly coiled 28-year-old, who was the most intense rival for her husband's attentions 15 years ago, getting what he called "creepy love letters" from his predatory "father figure."

"He was very demanding," she said of the boy. "And he was very conniving. And he wanted his way, and he didn't listen a whole lot."

The accuser had testified that on a trip to the Alamo Bowl in 1999, as Jerry threatened to send him home if he would not perform oral sex in the bathroom, Dottie had come to the edge of the bathroom and called out "What are you doing in there?" before disappearing again after a brief talk with her husband.

Dottie gave a different version. She said that they were staying in an efficiency apartment, with a cot for the boy. She came in one day and Jerry and the boy were in the bathroom area, clothed, having a fight because the boy was refusing to go to a football luncheon for which Sandusky had bought a $50 ticket.

"He was yelling," she said of her husband, adding: "I know Jerry was mad the way he looked. He said, 'We did this for you. You've got to do this.'" She added with irritation that "we had to pay for his airline ticket; we had to pay for his food," even though they had expenses for their "own" children and grandchildren.

She did not seem to find it odd that her husband was acting emotional, lavishing gifts and doting on a child "like his girlfriend," as the grown-up accuser testified. (He noted that Dottie Sandusky was "kind of cold," treating the fatherless boys like they were "Jerry's kids.")

Mrs. Sandusky seemed to wilt a bit and steel herself as she was shown pictures of the fresh-faced boys who grew up into messed-up men, taken at the age when the abuse allegedly happened -- handsome kids whose blue-collar working moms were thrilled to have the famous Jerry Sandusky take the boys on outings and overnights. As Dottie talked, her husband looked away from her, toward the pictures of the boys.

Sounding a little acidic, as though she were describing a romantic rival, she said of one boy: "He was a charmer. He knew what to say and when to say it."

She was dutifully loyal about her husband but did not express outrage about the charges.

Their life, she said, was "rough because Jerry, he was not around a lot." When the young couple realized they couldn't have children, they adopted six. He would come home at 6:30 p.m., "spend an hour or so with the kids, then disappear up to his study to work."

Asked about the testimony of one accuser that she was in the house when he screamed for help, as Mr. Sandusky raped him in the basement, she said she never heard any yelling and denied, as the young man had suggested, that the basement must be soundproof.

Asked about her hearing by her husband's lawyer, she replied: "I think it's pretty good."

She said she did notice some oddly clingy behavior by one boy, who ran across the room while they were watching TV to jump into a La-Z-Boy with Jerry, and who also ran across the gym at a wrestling match to hug Jerry.

Pressed by the prosecutor about those trips by her husband to the basement, she said primly: "He would go down and say good night," adding, "I didn't go down and tuck 'em in."

opinion_commentary

Maureen Dowd is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times. First Published June 21, 2012 4:00 AM


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