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Jerry Sandusky trial: To boost 'alternative story,' should he take the stand?

A defense attorney for Jerry Sandusky said his client may testify. In legal circles the move is seen as a risky one, but perhaps necessary, to counter the compelling evidence against him.

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The defense is also expected to rely on testimony from Dr. John O’Brien, a Philadelphia psychiatrist, who will say Sandusky suffers from histrionic personality disorder, which can create a heightened need for attention and an overly sexual or seductive appearance. Dr. O’Brien, who is known in the area for providing expert testimony in many high-profile cases over past years, conducted a two-hour evaluation of Sandusky over the weekend.

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The O’Brien testimony will allow prosecutors to solicit counter testimony from other behavioral science experts, who will likely reject the connection between the diagnosis and the behavior alleged in the case.

Dr. Liza Gold, a psychiatrist at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, told ABC News Monday “there is no association” between the disorder “and any type of child sexual abuse of any kind.”

None of the defense’s surrogates for Sandusky are expected to deny that he had close, personal relationships with the victims. But they are expected to maintain that none of the encounters had malicious intent or led to abuse.

“The defense needs to make believable and understandable an alternative version of the events” that the jury heard last week, says Jules Epstein, a law professor at Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, Pa. and a former criminal defense attorney. “Right now the story that is pushed and pushed and pushed is the prosecutor’s version.”

Determining whom best to tell the story may involve close family members. Dottie Sandusky is at top of the list. Last week, several of the victims said the abuse happened in the Sandusky basement when Ms. Sandusky was home upstairs. One victim said she walked into a hotel room when her husband was perpetrating the abuse in the bathroom.

Matt Sandusky, the couple’s adopted son, is also a candidate for the defense. Both he and his mother say Jerry Sandusky is innocent.

Mr. Epstein says Sandusky should only be allowed to testify if his legal team believes he can do so in “a believable and persuasive way.” His public performances to date have been disastrous: In a telephone interview with Bob Costas of NBC, Sandusky appeared aloof to the serious nature of the charges. He admitted to the showers but said they were “without intent of sexual contact.”

Despite the misstep, allowing the media access to Sandusky was likely part of the defense strategy to get in front of the story, rather than be defined by the accusations.

“I’m not going to say it was wise,” says Epstein. “You only do that when you make sure your client can handle the questioning."


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