"We're in Centre County. We're in rural Pennsylvania," he said. "There are these [connections] that cannot be avoided."
Of those picked Tuesday, at least five had ties to the major figures or institutions in the case.
The middle-aged white woman whose family held season tickets told the judge her husband, a physician, worked with John McQueary, whose son Mike - a Penn State assistant football coach - said he saw Sandusky assaulting a 10-year-boy in 2001. Prosecutors have said they intend to call both father and son to testify.
But while Sandusky's attorney, Joseph Amendola, appeared ready to use one of his eight allotted challenges to reject the woman, his client stopped him.
"I think she can be fair," Sandusky said after she brought up her season tickets.
Also picked for the jury was a Penn State senior from Montgomery County who wore a university T-shirt during questioning. He told the judge he worked at a campus athletic facility and had a friend who knew one of Sandusky's accusers, but maintained that he could keep an open mind.
A 2003 Penn State graduate who now teaches in Bellefonte and a retired Penn State professor were also selected.
Throughout, Sandusky sat grim-faced and silent. He kept his head down as the judge explained to each juror that he or she would be sitting on a case dealing with sexual abuse.
The day's progress drove home a point Amendola has argued since Sandusky's arrest in November on 52 counts of sexual abuse: His best shot at a fair trial was at home.
Though prosecutors allege the former Penn State defensive coordinator molested 10 boys he met through the Second Mile, and while much of the surrounding publicity has left him vilified in the community, many Centre County residents have long known Sandusky for the good he did.
He helped establish the university's reputation as "Linebacker U" during his three decades working under beloved head football coach Joe Paterno. And with the Second Mile, the nonprofit he established in 1977, he offered support to hundreds of the region's underprivileged youths.
The connections he made in those roles quickly became clear. Quizzing a group of 40 prospective panelists early Tuesday, Cleland asked how many either worked for or had retired from Penn State. Nearly half raised their hands.
About 20 in that same group said they knew someone on a list of nearly five dozen potential witnesses that included Sandusky's accusers and Paterno's widow and son.
Several more said they had volunteered or donated to the Second Mile. And four responded that they knew Sandusky personally.
Those struck from that bunch included a nurse who told the court that "people make up stories all the time," a woman who raised 10 children and said she had made up her mind about the case, and a local township manager who said publicity surrounding the Sandusky trial had damaged her community.
For most of the 180 remaining potential jurors called to the courthouse on Tuesday, the day turned into a slog. Some talked in courthouse hallways waiting for their turn before the court. Others idled away the hours playing games on their phones.
One man in a Penn State sweatshirt dozed quietly, while others pondered whether he had chosen his outfit in an attempt to be dismissed.
Cleland told the group that those selected would not be sequestered during what is expected to be a three-week trial. He acknowledged the decision could pose a risk given the overwhelming publicity the case has already garnered.
"No one in the world will know as much about this trial as those in the jury box," he said. "I'm trusting you will not read the newspapers, watch TV news, or read blogs. . . . I'm sure that judgment will not be misplaced."
Lawyers for both sides are expected to continue the selection Wednesday in hope of filling out a jury of 12 and four alternates.
Opening arguments in the case are scheduled for Monday.
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Some information was compiled from press pool reports.