The news hit like a bomb here in Centre County, Pennsylvania: Matt Sandusky, the 33-year-old adopted son of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach whose current trial has turned him into the most notorious child sex-crimes defendant of the moment, said that his father had molested him.
He told the world his secret via a short statement from a pair of Pennsylvania victims’ rights lawyers and then asked the media to back off and respect his need for privacy. His revelation, if true, may have been triggered by the sensational news reports coming out of his adoptive father’s trial; Matt Sandusky indicated through his attorneys that he would have testified if the judge allowed it. By the time the public heard the bombshell, the jury was already deliberating Jerry Sandusky’s fate.
People in this area say they had long harbored suspicions about Matt and his adoptive father—suspicions that were renewed during trial when accuser No. 4 testified that Matt nervously left a Penn State shower when he and Jerry Sandusky entered and the former coach began to pump foam soap in his hand—a signal, the alleged victim said, that a soap fight would lead to sexual contact.
Matt’s biological mother told The Daily Beast she has been trying to tell people something was wrong with the relationship between the much older Sandusky and her young son, a member of the Second Mile charity camp program, since 1995.
Debra Rose Long’s protests began well before any of the current accusers’ cases are alleged to have occurred. Long says because she was a poor, disadvantaged single mother at the time, no one listened to her. When the esteemed Jerry and Dottie Sandusky told authorities they wanted to adopt young Matt, then a troubled minor, it seems everyone thought that would be a fine idea. Everyone except his mother.. She wrote letters of complaint to the Child and Youth Services department and to a Centre County Judge. She refused to give up her parental rights to the boy, originally named Matt Heichel.
“Centre County was an enabler to him,” Long wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “The only voice other than my own was the Juvenile Probation Officer [Terry Trude] who wrote a letter to Judge Grine stating that the Sanduskys’ was not the right placement for Matthew.” But the judge ultimately decided for the famous Penn State coach and his wife. (Throughout the trial, Jerry and Dottie Sandusky have denied the charges against him.)
In court over the last two weeks, Debra Rose Long has quietly tucked herself into the far left-hand back corner, on the prosecution’s side of the room. During conversation her eyes dart nervously. She doesn’t want attention called to her; she doesn’t want to talk in-depth until the verdict. She says she has no current relationship with her son, and it seems as though that pains her deeply.
According to the Patriot-News, the paper that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Sandusky scandal, Long’s extensive court file includes notes she wrote to her attorney accusing Sandusky of stalking her son and suspected abuse. The report goes on to say Jerry Sandusky interjected himself in the boy’s life from long distance as Matt was about to be released from juvenile detention for burning down a barn. The popular Penn State Football coach was reportedly in Los Angeles for the 1995 Rose Bowl game when he placed telephone calls back to authorities in Centre County, Pennsylvania, to arrange for Matt to move in to the Sandusky house as a foster child. It didn’t take long, according to Matt’s mother, for the family to begin talking about adoption. Dottie Sandusky is quoted telling a teenaged Ron Heichel, Matt’s brother by birth, “He’s not your brother anymore,” when he called to speak to Matt. “This was before he was even adopted,” Heichel told the Patriot-News. The final adoption went through soon after Matt’s 18th birthday in 1997.
Matt has had a string of run-ins with the law, the Patriot-News reports. Court records show that about four months after he moved into the Sandusky home, he tried to commit suicide with another foster child living there. In 1996 he ran away from the Sanduskys. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to harassing an ex-girlfriend and her new lover. In 2003, Matt moved out of the Sandusky home to get married;in May of that year, Matt called State College police to report there was a trespasser at his home—Jerry Sandusky—who had been told he was not welcomed. An officer stayed at the home until the elder Sandusky left.
In his book Touched Sandusky wrote of the young Matt, “He became an instant challenge for me.” And of his prior home life, Sandusky wrote, “His mom was a person who tried very hard, but she kind of went from one crisis to another. Matt seemed to be neglected in many ways. He was put down a lot and told he really wasn’t any good.”
Jill Thomas, Matt’s ex-wife and mother of his three children, is quoted as telling police that her husband and Jerry Sandusky had a frosty, almost non-existent relationship, and that when they spoke on the phone Matt would run to the bathroom and throw up. In other words, Matt Sandusky appears to be a very troubled and disturbed man.
Given Matt’s background, there are questions in this small community about whether his shocking charge of molestation should be believed at this late date. But sexual-abuse advocates say his track record is no surprise.
That is such typical behavior an abuse victim!” says Rebecca Berry, of a survivors group called Tree-Climbers.org, who has attended every day of the Jerry Sandusky trial. “Boys, especially, act out aggressively a lot of the times. It’s a shame that they always then become the bad guy.”
Matt Bodenchatz, the founder of a victims’ group at Penn State, wrote to The Daily Beast: “Matt Sandusky deserves to be celebrated for his exceptional bravery in coming forward, both in general terms and in consideration of the uniquely close and painful position he has clearly been in for years.”
The jury, composed of seven women and five men, has been sequestered since Thursday afternoon, so, on paper at least, they have been shielded from the explosive Matt Sandusky revelations. But there are fears that during the bus ride into the courtroom they might catch a glimpse of a local newspaper in the multitude of corner kiosks. The Centre County Times has displayed a huge banner headline about the case every day.
So far, a source tells The Daily Beast, the jury seems to have hunkered down in their sequestration, ordering in large poster board on which to organize their thoughts and a fist full of bold marker pens. They have asked for a readback of testimonies regarding alleged victim No. 2, the child assistant Penn State football coach Mike McQueary said he found being anally raped in a shower by Sandusky.
Whether the revelations will make their way into the jury room is unclear.
“News like this is very hard to keep from a jury,” says Jeff Gold, a legal commentator. “This is a big thing.”