Jerry Sandusky’s defense could be histrionic personality disorder

Jason Sickles
The Lookout

Is Jerry Sandusky a predatory pedophile or just an affectionate guy who needs to be the center of attention?

As his alleged victims take the stand to claim the former Penn State football coach sexually molested them, Sandusky's defense attorneys are asking the court to let them present evidence that he has histrionic personality disorder.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, people with the disorder suffer from poor self-esteem and resort to dramatics to gain approval.

"They have an overwhelming desire to be noticed, and often behave dramatically or inappropriately to get attention," according to the clinic's website.

[Slideshow: Key figures in the Sandusky trial]

One of the symptoms is to exhibit inappropriately seductive or flirtatious behavior

a fact that may help Sandusky's defense team explain love letters he reportedly sent some of his alleged victims.

"These disorders can indeed be real, and sometimes they can be pathological, but you have to look at the context from where they occur," Dr. Carol Bernstein, associate professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, told ABC News. "If someone exhibits sexually inappropriate behavior and that's all they have out of the several characteristics, that's not a personality disorder. Any sexual predator exhibits sexually inappropriate behavior."

It could be a difficult defense to prove, a law professor told ABC.

[Related: Sandusky defense tactic backfires]

"Typically, for an insanity argument, a person must be out of touch with reality at the time of the crime," said Elyn Saks, associate dean and professor of law, psychology, and psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at University of Southern California Gould Law School. "It is very strict. While personality disorders can have transient psychotic symptoms, this would be a stretch as a viable argument."

The former coach faces 52 criminal counts related to the alleged assaults of 10 boys. Prosecutors claim the abuse took place at Penn State, his home and other places over a 15-year period. Sandusky, who retired as the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator in 1999, has maintained he's innocent.