On Monday, Jerry Sandusky will be in Bellefonte while lawyers argue in front of a judge about what will or won’t or can or can’t happen in his pursuit of a new trial.
But on Friday, he was not the focus of years of legal wrangling and media attention after his arrest and subsequent conviction for child sex abuse charges. He was just one more guy in a jumpsuit sitting in the Benner Township state prison.
And Dottie Sandusky was just another wife visiting her husband.
It is something she does every week, because while Jerry still maintains his innocence, Dottie still vehemently believes him.
Every week, she makes the drive to Waynesburg, where Jerry is usually incarcerated, at Greene state prison.
She gets the one visit, unless there is a lockdown, which she often doesn’t know about until she gets there. She tries to call on the drive down, near Blairsville, to make sure nothing has happened that will get in the way. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
“With us, it’s a no-contact visit,” she said in an exclusive interview with the Centre Daily Times. “It’s for his protection.”
That is because Jerry, 72, is in administrative custody, a kind of special hold the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections uses for inmates “whose presence in general population would constitute a threat to life, property, himself/herself, staff, other inmates, the public or the secure or orderly running of the facility.”
Dottie says that she gets about four hours with her husband in Greene, but only an hour at Benner. The experience has been eye-opening.
I never really thought about people in prison. It seems like a lot of inmates are not treated like people.
“I never really thought about people in prison,” she said of those days before Jerry’s 2011 arrest. Since then, she has entered a world she never expected.
“It seems like a lot of inmates are not treated like people,” Dottie said.
She also didn’t think about the others affected.
“It’s not one person hurt. It’s a lot of people,” she said of incarceration. “It affects whole families.”
The Sandusky family is not different.
Dottie doesn’t have the same family she did five years ago. Jerry is not the only one missing. She also lost son Matthew, who came forward as an alleged victim in 2012. He is not among the victims behind the 45 of 48 convictions returned against his father.
Matthew Sandusky was adopted by the Sanduskys at age 18.
“We loved Matt,” said Dottie.
But things changed in the middle of Jerry’s 2012 trial. Dottie said Matthew drove her to Bellefonte on the first day. He was using Jerry’s car while his needed to be fixed. But one day, when she came home, the car was in the driveway and the keys on the table.
Dottie says she has been criticized for not having contact with Matthew or his children, but defends herself saying that she and Jerry have been cautioned about talking to them by attorneys.
She did see Matthew last week when she attended his speech at Lewisburg Area High School, a talk about his journey sponsored by Transitions of PA and Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children.
That ended in the arrest of radio host John Ziegler, an outspoken supporter of the Sanduskys. Ziegler and Dottie were both listed as people who could cause problems at the event, according to court documents. Ziegler resisted arrest and called Matthew a liar when passing him in a hall, police say.
But there are other family members, too.
“We have five other kids. They are all behind their dad,” said Dottie.
They are still there, she insisted, despite three of them losing jobs since the arrest.
“No one is saying it’s because of that,” she said, but shrugged her shoulders.
The other kids and their families keep a low profile. They won’t be in court Monday, their mom said, but that doesn’t mean they are not supportive.
“It’s hard. I don’t think people understand,” Dottie said.
She has seen a big change in her friends since the scandal broke. Living in Penn State’s backyard while married to the man seen by many as indelibly staining the university’s reputation is not easy. Dottie has also been tarred by many, including Matthew, as being complicit.
That, she says, is not true.
I would never condone child abuse. Matt said I had to know. Maybe I’m just dumb.
“I would never condone child abuse,” Dottie said. “Matt said I had to know. Maybe I’m just dumb.”
But she doesn’t believe that. She is completely sincere when she says not just that she believes Jerry is innocent but that she knows that to be true. She points to the lack of child pornography, or any pornography, found on Jerry’s electronics. Ziegler has also used that as a basis for his assertions of Jerry’s wrongful conviction.
People have an opinion of who I am and what I am. I have to know who I am and what I am and I keep going.
“People have an opinion of who I am and what I am,” she said. “I have to know who I am and what I am and I keep going.”
She keeps going by attending church and being just as religious in her workouts at the gym. See her, and you see a neat, silver-haired woman with shiny hoop earrings and a bright colored blouse.
She has lost friends. She’s picked up new ones, like the woman she goes with on prison visits.
And she still hears from Second Mile kids. The Second Mile was Jerry’s charity, the one that brought him together with the at-risk boys who told police he molested, assaulted and bribed them.
“I just heard from one of them, a girl with three kids. Her son just graduated. She cried and said, ‘Don’t they understand how many kids Second Mile helped?’ ” Dottie said.
The Second Mile was officially dissolved in March.
There has been a change in public opinion in some ways over the past years. There have been articles about NCAA overreach in the historic punishments against the university, and those sanctions were repealed. Former head coach Joe Paterno got his wins back and is posthumously the winningest coach in college football again. There are calls to bring back his statue.
On Friday, the state solicitor general said he was not recommending that the attorney general appeal the Superior Court decision that dismissed most of the charges against former university leaders Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, all of whom faced (and are still facing) criminal charges stemming from the grand jury proceedings against Jerry.
Does that mean she feels good about the chances of his pending Post Conviction Relief Act petition, seeking a new trial?
She doesn’t know.
I don’t think Jerry received a fair trial. We’re very hopeful. You have to be.
“I don’t think Jerry received a fair trial,” Dottie said. “We’re very hopeful. You have to be.”