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Wife: Penn State sex abuse scandal takes toll on Sandusky children

Wife: Penn State sex abuse scandal takes toll on Sandusky children
CNN
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 10:36pm

It is when talking about her own children or grandchildren that Dottie Sandusky chokes up with emotion, when the pain of her husband's conviction for sexually abusing young boys rises to the surface.

"We kept it from the kids as long as we could because we did not know what was going to happen," said Dottie Sandusky, fighting back tears in an interview with CNN's Jason Carroll.

"And that was really hard. We had to tell the kids, and the kids questioned their dad. And the kids talked to him and he told them and they believe their dad."

To Dottie Sandusky, the boys her husband Jerry was convicted of sexually molesting were manipulated. She blames a vast conspiracy, which included the media, for the conviction that sent the 70-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach to prison on a 30- to 60-year sentence.

Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in 2012 on 45 counts, has maintained his innocence. He is appealing.

The toll on the children in Sandusky clan, however, seems to preoccupy his wife the most.

"It's been tough on our family," she said. "Two of our kids have lost their jobs during this time ... Our granddkids, some of them are older, old enough to understand what has gone on, and they know who their pop is, what people are saying that he is. But they know who he is. It's been really hard on them."

The Pennsylvania trial featured the testimony of eight young men who said they were sexually abused by Sandusky -- either groped in a car, soaped by him in the shower or sexually assaulted on a basement waterbed.

"It wasn't like he just took boys and took them to the shower," Dottie Sandusky said. "It was when he would work them out, and they would shower and it's a public place. I mean, there's people that come and go in the locker room all the time."

Asked whether she was deluding herself or unwilling to accept the truth, she said: "I'm not that kind of a person and I believe he's innocent, and if I didn't believe he was innocent, I would not stand by him."

The scandal gripped the nation and ended a torturous chapter for the victims and Penn State's vaunted football program -- including the dismissal of the late legendary coach Joe Paterno and one of America's highest-paid university presidents, Graham Spanier.

It also tarnished Penn State's celebrated reputation in collegiate athletics and erased part of the Nittany Lions' impressive record under Paterno from the annals of football history.

John Ziegler, a Sandusky family confidant and documentary filmmaker, believes Penn State administrators railroaded Paterno by firing him in the wake of the scandal and making it virtually impossible for Sandusky to have a fair trial.

"When Joe Paterno was fired, it is a nuclear explosion that goes through the landscape of this case," Ziegler told CNN. "And because of that, Jerry Sandusky loses all presumption of innocence."

At the trial of her husband of 37 years, Dottie Sandusky testified that she never heard or saw anything strange or sexual in the basement of their home, where many of the victims say her husband molested them.

The couple's adopted son, Matt Sandusky, originally denied to a grand jury being abused, but later told his attorney that he, too, was a victim.

In the police interview, Matt Sandusky said that he was molested between the ages of 8 and 15, that he tried to escape from the home and once attempted suicide. Matt Sandusky, who was 18 when he was adopted, had earlier spent time with them in foster care.

"I don't know whether somebody talked to him, or whether he saw money," Dottie Sandusky said of their adopted son's change of story.

Asked whether she wanted to reconcile with her adopted son, Dottie Sandusky -- again referring to the family children -- said amid tears: "I would like to talk to Matt. I really miss seeing his kids. They were a part of our lives. And, the hurt that they must be going through. I would love to talk to Matt just to see why and what. What his thoughts are."

She previously disputed his credibility, referring to Matt's "many run-ins with the law" in a letter to the judge who was about to sentence her husband in October 2012.

"Matt is extremely disappointed that Dottie and the Sanduskys have decided to smear his character in an attempt to deflect attention from Jerry Sandusky's heinous crimes," his lawyers, Justine Andronici and Andrew Shubin, said in a statement to CNN at the time. "Matt has shown tremendous courage and strength. Rather than supporting her son when he made the gut-wrenching decision to come forward and tell the truth about the abuse he suffered at the hands of Jerry Sandusky, Dottie Sandusky has chosen to continue Jerry's strategy of blaming and attacking the victims, thereby perpetuating the abuse."

Lawyers for two victims recently responded to Dottie Sandusky's latest comments.

"Mrs. Sandusky is our best recent example of our deep denial of the reality of child sex abuse," attorney Marci Hamilton said. "Never underestimate the ability of a pedophile to charm and deceive the adults around him or her."

Attorney Tom Kline said, "Dott(ie) Sandusky, like her husband, remains remarkably unremorseful towards Jerry Sandusky's victims. One significant and noticeable difference is her dramatic shift from her cold and detached demeanor as a witness for her husband at his criminal trial to an emotional and distraught spouse, which appears to my eye to be an attempt to convey a sympathetic image for herself and husband -- a child molester convicted by overwhelming evidence."

Since the trial, 26 men have settled claims with Penn State totaling $59.7 million in connection with the Sandusky scandal, the university announced last fall. A few other claims have not yet been settled.

"I think that they could be manipulated by people," Dottie Sandusky said. "I think a lot of them had financial problems. I just don't believe their stories. I'm sorry."

At least every week, she visits her husband in his southwestern Pennsylvania prison.

"He's in his cell 23 hours a day, Monday through Friday," Dottie Sandusky told CNN. "And then on weekends its 24 hours. It's hard. We talk about what he's doing in prison, what has happened. And I try to cheer him up, but he ends up cheering me up instead of me cheering him up."

During the interview, Dottie Sandusky showed CNN's Carroll the basement room of the State College, Pennsylvania, home where some of the victims said they were abused. One accuser said his muffled screams went unheard by her upstairs.

"I would have heard it, yes," she said of his screams for help.

Dottie Sandusky was read part of letter her husband wrote to CNN. It said, "My biggest hope at the moment is that somehow people will realize how unfair everything was and that judges will have the courage to examine everything."

She said: "I believe God has a purpose and some purpose will come out of this, that he will see us through."

-- CNN's Jason Carroll and Sheila Steffan contributed to this report.

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