BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Matt Sandusky went to the Centre County courthouse on June 11. He took a seat. He was, it seemed to all, a loyal if silent supporter, there in a show of solidarity for his adoptive father.
For more than a week, eight men would testify they had been abused as boys by Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant Penn State football coach. They had been boys like Matt — children who had met Sandusky through his charity, Second Mile. These were boys with troubled backgrounds. Boys perhaps looking for a stable parent. Their testimony was gruesome, and it left some of them in tears all over again.
When the victims’ testimony ended, Matt Sandusky, according to his two lawyers, was ready to return to the courthouse, but in a much different role: as a victim willing to testify against Jerry Sandusky.
The lawyers, Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici, said in a statement that Matt Sandusky had been abused, as well. His testimony never became necessary. Jerry Sandusky was convicted Friday, and it is unclear if Matt will ever tell his story publicly.
Court records and interviews suggest his story is a complicated and painful one, with some nightmarish scenes from life with his adoptive father. His own broken marriage. A brush with the law. Financial struggles. And, it seems, plenty of regret.
His biological mother, Debra Long, when charges first came out and accusers were stepping forward, said she had tried early on to get the authorities to take action. Long said she knew her son was in trouble in Sandusky’s home,but was unable to prevail and stop it. Mike Long, her husband, said his wife felt ignored by the authorities once her son was adopted.
“She feels like she let the other victims down by not being able to stop this back then,” Long said in an interview in November on his wife’s behalf. “It’s weighing real heavily on her mind.”
Jerry Sandusky’s lead lawyer, Joseph Amendola, repeatedly said other victims were lying leading up to and during the trial. He also disputed Matt Sandusky’s statements. After the verdict late Friday night, Amendola said Sandusky told him that he had never done anything inappropriate to Matt.
“Well, of course, they were crushed by that,” Amendola said of the reaction to Matt’s statement by Sandusky and his wife, Dorothy.
In light of Matt Sandusky’s willingness to come forward with his threatening testimony, Amendola decided not to put the defendant on the stand once prosecutors told him they would call Matt to testify as a rebuttal witness. Amendola said Matt’s statement prevented him from putting on his best defense for Jerry Sandusky.
“Our whole case was predicated on Jerry testifying,” he said. “If we called Jerry Sandusky as a witness, it would almost certainly have resulted in the commonwealth being permitted to call Matt Sandusky.
“Jerry Sandusky still wanted to testify. He denied that he had ever had contact with his son, Matt.”
In the end, the jury’s verdict will probably put Jerry Sandusky behind bars for the rest of his life.
Matt Sandusky, 33, put himself in the same category with the eight victims who described how difficult their lives have been — but the jury did not hear Matt’s struggles.
Matt was an 8-year-old foster child when he first met Jerry Sandusky. As with the accusers who testified, Jerry Sandusky took a close interest in Matt and wanted to be a mentor for him soon after he entered Second Mile.
Mike Long said Sandusky took Matt on trips, gave him tickets to football games, and escorted him around the Penn State athletic facilities, as he did for the victims who testified. “Jerry liked tall, thin boys that he could overpower,” Long said.
Matt started living in Sandusky’s home in 1995 after setting a barn on fire.
“That wasn’t anything more than just a normal kid messing around, but the courts used it to make Matt go live with Jerry,” Long said. “His behavior took a real turn for the worse after that.”
Mike Long said he started suspecting something was wrong when Matt was 11.
Long said Matt ran away from the Sandusky house to go to the home of his biological grandparents one night in a rainstorm. When Harold Heichel, Matt’s grandfather, saw Jerry Sandusky driving up to his home, he hid Matt. Jerry Sandusky went on to confront Heichel that night, Long said.
“Harold pushed Matt into the basement behind the door,” Long said of the grandfather, who died about seven years ago. “He was in his protective mode.”
At 18, Matt was adopted as an adult, the youngest of the six children Jerry Sandusky, now 68, adopted. He also changed his last name from Heichel to Sandusky.
Matt went on to become an equipment manager for the Penn State football team. Jerry Sandusky even bought Matt a car, a Ford Escort, Long said.
When the grand jury report came out last year, Long said his wife realized, to her horror, that she witnessed the pattern of behavior Jerry Sandusky displayed toward Matt and the other victims. Debra Long said she had contacted officials in Centre County in the mid-1990s to alert them about Jerry Sandusky.
“My son was afraid of Jerry,” Debra Long told ABC in an interview last November. “If Jerry said don’t talk, he didn’t talk. I would sit back and watch when Jerry would show up, how excited Matt was. And then, as time went on, I would watch the same kid hide behind the bedroom door and say, ‘Mom, tell him I’m not home.’”