Judge denies Sandusky’s bid to delay trial

Posted: May 31, 2012

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — The judge in Jerry Sandusky’s child sex-abuse case denied another defense request Wednesday to delay his trial, clearing the way for what is sure to be one of the state’s most closely watched legal spectacles.

Noting that "no date for trial is ever perfect," Judge John M. Cleland ordered jury selection to begin Tuesday. That tamped down speculation among some attorneys for Sandusky’s accusers as to whether the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach might be preparing to plead guilty.

The talk had been fueled by a three-hour, closed-door, previously unannounced meeting a day earlier that included Sandusky, his lawyer Joseph Amendola, state prosecutors, and the judge. Cleland noted in his order Wednesday that the secrecy surrounding that meeting was necessary to protect an ongoing grand-jury investigation on which Amendola had based his request for a postponement.

"While June 5 does present its problems … considering all the interests involved — the defendant’s right to a fair trial, the alleged victims’ right to their day in court, the commonwealth’s obligation to prosecute promptly and the public’s expectation that justice will be timely done — no date will necessarily present a better alternative," wrote Cleland, who was brought in from McKean County to preside over the case.

The judge’s decision set the stage for the expected arrival next week of hordes of reporters, curious onlookers, and potential jurors to the small Victorian community that is the Centre County seat.

With the trial looming, lawyers on both sides continued to hash out last-minute conflicts.

At a hearing Wednesday, prosecutors argued that they could secure a conviction against Sandusky even without purported victims or unassailable eyewitness testimony in two of the alleged incidents. Amendola asked Cleland on Wednesday to throw out the charges in those episodes because they rely primarily on hearsay evidence.

Sandusky, 68, has denied charges that he molested 10 boys he met through his charity for underprivileged youths between 1994 and 2006.

Two of those purported victims, however, remain unknown to prosecutors.

The first — involving a boy identified in court filings as Victim 2 — has come to define the Sandusky scandal since the coach’s arrest late last year.

In grand jury testimony, Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary said that in 2002, he walked in on Sandusky with a young boy in the university’s locker room showers. He later reported what he had seen to head football coach Joe Paterno but did not immediately call outside authorities. No victim in that case has come forward.

Amendola argued Wednesday that McQueary’s story has changed several times and is unreliable without corroboration. In previous testimony, a family friend, Jonathan Dranov, told grand jurors that he repeatedly asked McQueary just hours after the shower incident whether what he had seen was sexual in nature. Dranov quoted McQueary, then a graduate assistant, as saying no, according to court filings.

The second case, involving Victim 8, purportedly took place six years after the episode described by McQueary. According to court documents, James Calhoun, then a Penn State janitor, told coworkers that he spotted Sandusky in the showers performing oral sex on a boy who looked to be 11 to 13.

Calhoun now suffers from dementia and cannot testify, prosecutors have said. None of his coworkers on duty that night said they saw the alleged abuse, but at least one reported seeing Sandusky and a boy of that age that night. Again, the boy in question has not come forward.

Prosecutors argued Wednesday that despite those limitations, they could still prove the two alleged incidents occurred. Fina, the assistant attorney general, compared the case to a car wreck in which many witnesses heard screeching tires and saw speeding cars but only one saw the impact.

"The evidence we will produce will be equivalent to people observing the before and after" of the crash, Fina said. "It will be circumstantial evidence that can prove the event occurred."

Amendola disagreed, urging the judge to throw out those counts before trial rather than after proceedings have begun.

"The more charges that are presented to the jury, the likelihood is that they are going to feel that something must have happened," the lawyer said.

Cleland did not make a ruling, but assured both sides he would decide before jury selection begins on Tuesday.

He must also rule on requests from five of Sandusky’s eight known accusers, who have asked permission to take the witness stand under assumed names when they are called to testify.

Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218 or jroebuck@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @jeremyrroebuck.

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