Sandusky takes stand at motions hearing

Posted: February 10, 2012

BELLEFONTE – Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky lashed out Friday at former friends and neighbors whose complaints prompted prosecutors this week to seek his confinement inside his State College house.

Sandusky's remarks to reporters came moments after a court heard testimony that several people had expressed concern over his frequent presence on his back deck, yards from a neighboring elementary school.

"All of a sudden these people turn on me when they've been in my home with their kids, they've attended birthday parties here for my grandchildren, they've been on that deck and in that yard," he said. "It's been difficult to be honest."

But prosecutors argued that those same friends and neighbors had good reason to be worried.

"This home was not safe for children 15 years ago, and it's not safe for children now," said Deputy Attorney General Jonelle H. Eschbach.

Friday's court hearing addressed a hodgepodge of pre-trial issues as prosecutors and Sandusky's defense prepare to take the case to trial May 14. Common Pleas Court Judge John M. Cleland did not make any rulings from the bench.

In addition to the question of the former coach's bond conditions, prosecutors renewed their request to have jurors from outside of Centre County hear the case, citing the overwhelming pre-trial publicity and the important role Penn State and Sandusky's charity The Second Mile play in the community.

One in three people in Centre County are either Penn State students or are employed by the university, prosecutor Joseph McGettigan said.

"You're not going to just have people who have read about the case, you're going to have people who bring their own personal information," he said. "They will know from their own experience the places where the crimes occurred. They will know the defendant. They will know kids in Second Mile, or have kids in the Second Mile."

Sandusky's attorney – Joseph Amendola – has opposed the motion, arguing that publicity generated by the case has so saturated the state as to make any distinction in locales irrelevant. Sandusky briefly took the stand Friday as Cleland questioned whether he agreed with his lawyer's advice.

"I don't believe it matters relative to anywhere else in the state," he said. "It's going to come down to the people who are on the jury."

Throughout, the 68-year-old laughed nervously, often seemed unsure of himself and frequently glanced at Amendola for approval.

"That's just Jerry," the lawyer said later when asked about his client's demeanor on the stand.

Since his arrest in November, Sandusky has denied charges he molested at least 10 boys he met through The Second Mile in incidents that allegedly occurred in hotel rooms, his home and on the Penn State campus.

The resulting scandal led to the dismissal of the university's head football coach Joe Paterno and former president Graham B. Spanier. Two other administrators – former university Vice President Gary Schultz and suspended Athletic Director Tim Curley – face charges of perjury and failure to report abuse. Both have entered "not guilty" pleas.

Since his arrest, Sandusky said, he has endured relentless scrutiny from neighbors, the surrounding community and the press.

"I can't even take my dog on our deck and throw out biscuits to him," he said after Friday's hearing.

Almost as if offering proof of that constant attention, prosecutors introduced into evidence Friday several videos shot by one of Sandusky's neighbors depicting him on his back porch.

The man had called investigators concerned about the proximity of the porch to nearby Lemont Elementary School. Citing several similar complaints, prosecutors asked Cleland to further limit Sandusky's movements to inside his home.

He has been confined to his property and barred from any contact with children since his release on bond in December.

Anthony Sassano, a state investigator assigned to the case, testified Friday that most complaints had come from parents and teachers at an after-school program on the campus, though no one had reported any specific incidents of Sandusky approaching or acting inappropriately toward its children.

"They would comment to the effect of 'That man is out there, again,'" he said, recounting the children's reaction to seeing the former coach on his deck. "Then they would all run over to the window and cause a disruption in the classroom."

Amendola has urged the judge to loosen his client's bond restrictions to allow him visits with grandchildren and close family friends.

Cleland said he intended to decide the bond question and the issue of whether Centre County jurors can fairly hear the case by early next week. He urged attorneys for both sides to continue to negotiate on other matters including a motion in which Sandusky's lawyers accused prosecutors of withholding or redacting hundreds of pages of investigative documents that could aid in his defense.

But how long that process takes could derail plans to try the case this spring, Amendola said.

A previous time table set Sandusky's trial for late this year – after the state's November election for a new attorney general. The new schedule would put the case before jurors well before the waning days of Attorney General Linda L. Kelly's administration. Kelly took over the Sandusky case and the attorney general's office in May, after Tom Corbett left to become governor.

Though Amendola expressed doubt that he could meet these new deadline, Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo maintained Friday that the state was eager to press on.

"We want to get this case tried as quickly as possible," he said. "And we want to ensure it's a fair trial." Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or @jeremyrroebuck on Twitter.

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