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Matt Sandusky: From staunch defender to possibly his father's most damning accuser

As a sequestered jury deliberates the fate of Jerry Sandusky, his adopted son is now saying he was one of former Penn State assistant coach's sex-abuse victims. NBC's Michael Isikoff

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- In a sudden reversal of Shakespearean proportions, Matt Sandusky this week went from stalwart supporter of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, his adopted father, to possibly his most damning accuser.

On the first day of Jerry Sandusky’s trial on charges that he sexually abused 10 young boys over a 15 year period, Matt Sandusky – at 33 the youngest of Jerry and Dottie Sandusky’s six adopted children--was among the family members who filed into court to show support for the defendant.


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But after listening to a man known as “Victim 4” testify that Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused him over the course of  five years, sources close to the case tell NBC News, Matt Sandusky approached prosecutors with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office to tell them something he had repeatedly denied -- that he, too, was one of the alleged victims.


The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told NBC News this week that Jerry Sandusky decided not to testify after his lawyers were warned that prosecutors would call Matt as a witness.

 

NBC News was unable to locate Matt Sandusky this week for comment. But his attorneys, Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici, confirmed on Thursday that he requested their assistance in arranging a meeting with prosecutors "to disclose for the first time in this case that he is a victim of Jerry Sandusky's abuse."

Joseph Amendola, Jerry Sandusky's attorney, declined to comment, citing the judge's gag order. "I can't comment," he told reporters in the courtroom Friday evening, as deliberations continued. "After the verdict comes out i'll be happy to comment on that stuff."

Sandusky faces 48 charges relating to child sex abuse. He has maintained his innocence. Attorneys gave their closing arguments Thursday. At the time of this publishing, no verdict has been reached. News of a new accuser, however, opens the possibility of future charges against the former coach.

Centre Daily Times via AP

In this June 20, 2012 photo, Matt Sandusky, adopted son of Jerry Sandusky, leaves the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa.

Shubin and Andronici said in a statement that they would have no further comment.
"This has been an extremely painful experience for Matt and he has asked us to convey his request that the media respect his privacy," they said. The lawyers also represent the young men known as “Victim 3” and “Victim 7.”

The accusations by Sandusky’s youngest adopted child became the latest twist in the sexual abuse case that rocked the college football world. Yet some, including Matt’s biological mother, Debra Long, had already voiced concerns that Matt might have been abused by his adoptive father.

“I believe Matthew was a victim,” Long told NBC News in November.

Matt’s relationship with the Sandusky family mirrors a pattern outlined by the prosecution, in which the Commonwealth says Jerry Sandusky developed close relationships with boys that, according to allegations, evolved into abuse.

Matt first met Jerry Sandusky through the Second Mile program when he was in elementary school, Long said. Like many children who attended the program, which was targeted at children from disadvantaged backgrounds, Matt was mostly raised by a single mother. He also had trouble in school.

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Matt’s first interactions with Sandusky were at the charity’s events and related programs. “Then it started that he would take him to a football game, or he would take him to a family picnic,” Long said. Overnight visits followed, along with gifts of Penn State clothing. “It just kept escalating,” she said.

Matt’s biological brother, Ron Heichel, is serving a life sentence without parole in a Pennsylvania state prison. He was convicted in May 2011 in the August 2009 shooting of a Centre County man

In an interview with NBC News in early February, Heichel, 32, said that he occasionally was invited to the Sanduskys' home with Matt, but Jerry would often leave him and his sister behind.

“I think Jerry felt the need to invite me along because, if he didn’t, my mother wouldn’t let Matt go,” he said. “I always felt unwelcome.”

Sandusky, however, persuaded Long to let him take Matt further under his wing after an eighth-grade year plagued with disciplinary problems.

In his autobiography, “Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story,” the former coach recounts setting up a program in which Matt “could study and work out and spend time with us, and in turn, he would be rewarded with money that would go into a fund for his college education.”

“He would have to sign a contract to do his share, and he would also receive some money in hand.”

In 1994, Matt accompanied Jerry Sandusky, Penn State's defensive coordinator, to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

Late that year Matt, then 15, was arrested after trying to burn down a barn in Centre County. He was placed in juvenile detention just before Penn State was to go to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Sandusky writes in “Touched” that he made phone calls from Los Angeles to arrange to have Matt placed in his home as a foster child, over Long’s objections.

Centre County Common Pleas Judge David E. Grine agreed to release Matt into the Sanduskys’ care. A letter from a school-based probation officer to the court recounts how,  in March 1996, Matt tried to commit suicide. It was recommended that he receive “intensive outpatient counseling.” According to Long, Jack Raykovitz, the chief executive of Second Mile and a licensed child psychologist, provided at least some of that counseling.

Yet, after the suicide attempt, the school-based probation officer on Matt’s case wrote a letter to the court raising questions about his placement.

“The probation department has some serious concerns about the juvenile’s safety and his current progress in placement with the Sandusky family,” Officer Terry Trude wrote. The letter included concerns from Long that she did not get to see her son for the half-day per month the court had approved.

Around the same time, Matt seems to have distanced himself from his biological family. At 18, Jerry and Dottie Sandusky formally adopted him. He took their last name in 1999, when he was 20. He later told Sports Illustrated that his life turned around after he moved in with the Sanduskys.

"My life changed when I came to live here," Matt told the magazine in 1999. "There were rules, there was discipline, there was caring. Dad put me on a workout program. He gave me someone to talk to, a father figure I never had. I have no idea where I'd be without him and Mom. I don't even want to think about it. And they've helped so many kids besides me."

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But testimony during the trial, and Matt Sandusky’s recent accusations, suggest a more complicated story.

At the trial, “Victim 4” described entering into “contracts” to work out and study similar to those Sandusky had set up for Matt a few years before. “Victim 4” also testified he accompanied Sandusky to bowl games. 

And at one point their separate but seemingly parallel threads allegedly intersected. In his testimony, “Victim 4” described an instance in which he and Matt, then a teenager, went with Jerry Sandusky to play racquetball.

“After we were done, we went to the locker room to get changed,” “Victim 4” told the court. “Matt got undressed and went to the shower. Then me and Jerry came in, and we were there a minute or two.

“Matt got up and left —  well, not got up but turned off the shower, went out and into another shower.” Asked how Matt looked at the time, “Victim 4” responded, “Nervous.”

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Records indicate that Matt continued to struggle with his emotions into adulthood, sometimes crossing legal boundaries.

In 2002, he pleaded guilty twice to harassment in connection with an ex-girlfriend.

His 2010 divorce from his wife, Jill Jones, was also messy, according to interviews. Shortly after the accusations against Jerry Sandusky surfaced in November, Jones went to court and obtained an order that forbids the three young children she had with Matt from sleeping over at their grandparents’ home.

Travis Weaver, who alleges that he was abused by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, tells NBC's Kate Snow, "I'll be OK when he's in prison."

Matt Sandusky testified before the first grand jury, whose report led Sandusky to be charged in November with dozens of counts of child abuse over a period of 15 years. But according to reports, he denied any abuse by Sandusky and was never named as one of the alleged victims by the prosecution.

Throughout the months that Jerry Sandusky awaited trial, Matt appeared to support his father. He visited the house on Grandview Road regularly to see Sandusky, who had posted bail but was confined to his home.

On June 11, the first day of Jerry Sandusky’s trial, his family walked in to take their position on the bench behind the defense table. Dottie Sandusky wore a powder-blue suit. Matt sat beside her. While Dottie chatted with those around her, Matt sat somber, not talking much with the others.

That was the last day he would appear with the family at the county courthouse in Bellefonte. The next time he was seen entering the court, it was with employees of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, as a potential witness for the prosecution.

NBC News' Desiree Adib and Kimberly Kaplan contributed to this report.