Sandusky Defense Team Calls First Witnesses

The first witnesses for the defense testified Monday in the trial of Jerry Sandusky. The former Penn State football coach is charged with more than 50 counts in a child sex abuse case. Joel Rose is in Pennsylvania and talks to Melissa Block.

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The trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky resumed today with the defense taking center stage. All last week, jurors heard from witness after witness who testified that they were sexually abused by Sandusky as young boys, in some cases for years. This morning, Sandusky's lawyers called their first witnesses.

NPR's Joel Rose is outside of the courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. He joins me now. And, Joel, who testified so far today? What did they say?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: So, the defense started essentially with character witnesses for Jerry Sandusky. We heard from two in particular, Richard Anderson and Booker Brooks, who are both assistant football coaches at Penn State under Joe Paterno, which means that they were basically Sandusky's colleagues. Both of them have known him for decades.

Anderson spent a lot of his time on the stand talking about the rigors of the coaching job, which can consume more than 12 hours a day, six days a week, he said, during football season. So, you can sort of see the defense attorneys are even building a case in there that Jerry Sandusky would just have been too busy to be engaged in some of the alleged acts of abuse that he is charged with in this case.

BLOCK: What else can you tell us about the defense team's strategy here, trying to defend against these multiple allegations of sexual abuse?

ROSE: Well, it is a daunting task, as Sandusky's lawyers admitted in their opening statements. And the defense has kind of gone at it in a couple of ways. On the one hand, they've tried to undermine the credibility of Sandusky's accusers by saying that these are young men who were motivated by money; that they've hired their own private lawyers in some cases; and that their recollections of these events are either not accurate or are just flat out fabricated.

And, at the same time, the defense is also kind of trying to offer its own alternative picture of Jerry Sandusky. To sort of say, yes, he showered with these young boys; yes, he did some things that maybe you or I might not do; but the defense says that he did not engage in sex acts with these young boys and that's the key.

BLOCK: One other possible avenue for the defense here, Joel, I gather the judge in the case has said that the defense can call a witness to testify about something called histrionic personality disorder. Talk about that and how it might fit in with this case.

ROSE: Well, sure. Histrionic personality disorder is a psychological condition in which a person may act in a very emotional and dramatic way in order to draw attention to themselves. And the defense lawyers have indicated that they want to introduce testimony about this, because they say it could shed some light on Jerry Sandusky's behavior with his alleged victims.

I think especially, they're interested in testimony about the highly emotional letters that have been introduced as evidence in this case that Sandusky wrote to some of his alleged victims. And the prosecutors portray these letters as showing Sandusky grooming his alleged victims. And the defense is going to try to offer an alternative based on this histrionic personality disorder argument.

BLOCK: And the big unresolved question here, Joel, is will Jerry Sandusky himself take the witness stand?

ROSE: It's looking unlikely. I mean, the judge said today that the defense could finish presenting its case as soon as Wednesday. If the defense is going to put Sandusky on the stand, I mean, in a way, he's the only one who can make this case to the jury that he is, you know, an unusual but ultimately harmless guy who just like showering with young boys. And they may have to put him on the stand in order to convince the jury and to really make a believable.

But on the other hand, if they put them on the stand, they open them up to cross-examination by prosecutors. And we've seen how Sandusky has handled himself in other situations like that, especially in his interview with Bob Costas of NBC last fall, that really did the defense and no favors at all in this case and is, in fact, still making their life difficult.

BLOCK: And today, Joel, court adjourned early. What happened there?

ROSE: Well, the judge said that there were some technical issues that need to be resolved with regard to the next defense witness. And we've seen the defense and the prosecutor spend a lot of time at the judge's bench, presumably arguing about what is and is not going to be admissible in this case. And, you know, that may have something to do with the delay as well.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Joel Rose is covering the trial of Jerry Sandusky in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Joel, thanks very much.

ROSE: Thank you, Melissa.

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