THOUGH IT’S UNLIKELY ANYTHING could rival the embarrassment Marv Albert and his family suffered as his sexual secrets were, one after another, publicly exposed during his recent trial, the moment the veteran sportscaster truly realized the world as he knew it had been turned on its toupee may have come outside the courtroom. The third day’s testimony had just concluded when dozens of journalists surged from Room 10A of the Arlington (Va.) County courthouse. eager to tell their colleagues in the hallway about that afternoon’s surprise witness—P.J. Masten, a Hyatt Hotels executive, who recounted a graphic story of attempted sexual abuse by the broadcaster almost identical to that for which he was being tried. “You should have seen Albert’s face when she got on the stand!” shouted one reporter as the ashen defendant, 56, passed behind him. Almost never at a loss for a tart rejoinder, the ironic observer was reduced this time to the silence of the humiliatingly observed.
And observed, at that, by many he knew as professional colleagues. “The strange thing for me wasn’t so much the throng of media there—I understand that’s their job,” says Albert’s oldest son, Kenny, 29, a sportscaster and one of the half-dozen family members who attended the trial. “But it was strange to look around and see so many familiar faces.”
Not as surreal an experience as it was for the nation’s sports fans to find the elder Albert, his familiar features struggling to mask his feelings, in court rather than at courtside, charged with sexually assaulting his longtime mistress last Feb. 12. As accuser Vanessa Perhach, 42, a divorced Dominican-born hotel operator, and wildcard witness Masten, a Hyatt VIP manager in Atlanta, offered a steamy play-by-play of the broadcaster’s alleged predilections—among them, wearing garter belts, biting and “threesomes” including male partners—stunned spectators were left wondering whether beneath Albert’s sober suits lurked a man so out of control.
But while this may have been testimony that launched a thousand one-liners, for Masten it was no laughing matter. “No one has the right to do what [Albert] did to me—he’s vile,” she told PEOPLE. “Why did I [testify]? I have eight nieces and four sisters. This was an act of violence. Kids have to get an idea of what is right and wrong.”
Through the 2½ days before Masten’s testimony, the outcome of the trial, which began Sept. 22, seemed anything but certain. Though controversial rulings by Judge Benjamin Kendrick blocked repeated attempts by Albert’s lawyers to introduce evidence challenging Perhach’s credibility and portraying her as emotionally unstable, defense attorney Roy Black still scored serious points. The most damaging came on the second day, when he played a tape of a conversation in which. Perhach appeared to go along with a cab driver’s suggestion that he should be rewarded with $50,000 and a new car if he testified that Albert frequently asked him to find “boys” for sex.
The third day dawned promisingly for Albert and his loyal entourage, including the sportscaster’s fiancée, Heather Faulkiner, 39, a freelance producer at ESPN; his 81-year-old father, Max: and the four Albert children. Then came the prosecution’s stunning surprise: witness Masten. (Unlike many states, Virginia doesn’t require any advance disclosure of witnesses.) Over strenuous defense objections, Judge Kendrick allowed her to describe in riveting detail how Albert had tried to sexually assault her on two occasions. During the second incident, in 1994 in a Dallas hotel room, she claimed a garter-belt-wearing Albert, “exposed and aroused,” attacked her before she managed to flee—after yanking off his lumpy, chestnut toupee. “I’m a very private person, but I had to do this,” the divorced businesswoman says. “People have to take ultimate responsibility for their actions.”
The morning after Masten’s appearance, team Albert threw in the towel. Accepting what prosecutor Richard Trodden says was the same deal offered before the trial, Albert pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault-and-battery and the felony charge of forcible sodomy was dropped. Though the attractiveness of the offer was evident—at sentencing, on Oct. 24, Albert faces a maximum of a year in jail and a $2,500 fine instead of upward of five years in prison—many observers wondered what had suddenly made it one he couldn’t refuse. Perhaps it was the prospect of subjecting his family to even more kinky stories about his sex life. (A law-enforcement source confirmed to PEOPLE that a New York City drag queen had been subpoenaed to testify.)
“Finally it just got to be too much,” says lawyer Black. “Every day Marv talked to his family about the latest stories and tried to prepare them. He worried about how they were dealing with the grinding trial. Marv’s just relieved it’s over.”
Amazing as it may seem in light of all that has transpired—including his being fired from NBC within hours of his plea—Albert’s spirits were reported by son Kenny to be “really good.” In the bleakest moments of his life, he had clearly been sustained by his family “I guess everybody just looked to each other,” says Kenny. “There is no way any of us wouldn’t be there.”
Fiancée Faulkiner also looked to be standing by her man. On the weekend following Albert’s plea, the Toronto native secluded herself with Albert in the penthouse they share near Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Although they have yet to set a date, Kenny Albert believes the couple—who met in New York City in the mid-’80s when she worked as an associate producer for local newscasts and was still married to profootball scout Mike Faulkiner—will proceed with their marriage plans. This comes as no surprise to relationship guru and author Barbara De Angelis, who knows neither Albert nor Faulkiner but sees Americans in general being more understanding in their relationships. “For a lot of women, we tend to see a lapse from an otherwise good person as some kind of temporary insanity,” she says. “You’re seeing a lot more tolerance for mistakes.”
And if a woman wronged can find it in her heart to forgive, who is the average fan to hold a grudge? Unlikely as it might have seemed at the end of the trial, there has been a groundswell of support for Albert’s eventual professional rehabilitation—provided that a decent interval elapses, he appears genuinely remorseful, and that he seeks treatment for his problems. Even the man who fired him, NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol, expressed the hope that Albert might some day return. “I suppose in a world where everybody from G. Gordon Liddy to Hugh Grant manages to rehabilitate themselves that Albert may yet find his way to a microphone in the future,” says Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post’s media critic. “But he is carrying enormous baggage.”
These days, of course, he is not alone in doing so, and the public appears increasingly ready to forgive if not to forget. “When I first heard the charges, I thought Marv was the least likely person to be implicated in something like this. Now that it’s been adjudicated, I still think that,” says ABC and ESPN sports commentator Dick Schaap. “The other thing that hasn’t changed is that from the beginning I’ve felt that none of us really knows anyone except for perhaps ourselves. And probably only a small percentage of us know ourselves.”
JANE SIMS PODESTA in Arlington, ROCHELLE JONES in Washington, GAIL CAMERON WESCOTT in Atlanta, MARY GREEN in New York City and DANELLE MORTON and JULIE JORDAN in Los Angeles