Jury members selected for Sandusky trial have ties to Penn State

The jury box in Courtroom 1 of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., will be filled by jurors and alternates for the child sex-abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky.
The jury box in Courtroom 1 of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., will be filled by jurors and alternates for the child sex-abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky. (CHRIS KNIGHT / Patriot-News)
Posted: June 08, 2012

BELLEFONTE, Pa. - A jury of seven women and five men was seated Wednesday to hear the child sex-abuse case against Jerry Sandusky, setting the stage for opening arguments to begin Monday.

The panel's makeup also left little doubt of the shadow that Pennsylvania State University will cast over the former assistant football coach's trial.

Of those chosen, at least eight have ties to the college where Sandusky worked for three decades under legendary head coach Joe Paterno before retiring in 1999. Three of the four alternates said they attended Penn State or currently work there.

The jury's ranks include at least three university instructors - one retired; a rising senior who works at a campus athletic facility; and an administrative assistant in the university's engineering department. At least two jurors earned bachelor's or graduate degrees from Penn State.

Those relationships could work in Sandusky's favor or poison the panel's impression of him, given the impact his case has had on the university, said Michael Engle, a Philadelphia defense lawyer who once served as president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Attorneys.

But Common Pleas Court Judge John M. Cleland said that although Penn State's dominance in rural Centre County made such connections unavoidable, they would not necessarily preclude potential jurors from service.

Sandusky has denied charges that over a 15-year period he molested 10 boys he met through the Second Mile, the charity for underprivileged youths that he founded in 1977.

His arrest last year on 52 counts of child sexual abuse divided the Penn State community, damaged a football program known nationally for its for integrity, and led to the dismissal of four top administrators including university President Graham B. Spanier and beloved head football coach Joe Paterno for their handling of allegations against Sandusky that surfaced years earlier.

"Selecting people with ties to Penn State is really a double-edged sword," Engle said. "You could have people who blindly think that there's no way one of their great coaches could have done this, or you could have people who think that he tarnished the name of a great institution and should be punished."

But as the jury selection process entered its second and final day Wednesday, lawyers for both sides expressed optimism about how the panel was coming together. Nine jurors had been selected Tuesday.

Arriving in court with his client Wednesday, Sandusky's lawyer Joseph Amendola said he thought that the group would give the former coach a "fair shake."

Lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan, a deputy attorney general, said, "So far, so good," arriving shortly after.

And by 3:30 p.m., three more jurors and four alternates had been chosen, completing the process.

The jury includes a mother of two young children who works for Wal-Mart, an engineer in State College, and an employee for a Centre County property management firm.

All told the judge that they could keep an open mind and separate what they have heard around the university's campus and in news reports from the evidence they would hear in court.

"I have feelings" about the case, said a woman in her late 30s, who teaches dance in Penn State's continuing education program. "But I think there are things that I don't know, and I think that this process is where you really find out for real."

She was eventually selected for the jury.

Sandusky sat silently next to his lawyers as potential jurors - identified only by number - filed into the judge's chambers one after another for individual questioning. At times, the former coach interrupted, offering strategies to his lawyers on how to ensure certain individuals made it on the panel.

One in particular caught Sandusky's eye. A lanky man in his early 60s, who professed to be a devoted fan of Penn State football, told the court that his wife runs a program at the university to help keep underprivileged students enrolled.

Sandusky leaned over to his lawyers and suggested they reject two more prospective jurors to ensure that man would make the cut.

When the man, who was named the panel's third alternate, entered the judge's chambers, Sandusky greeted him with a smile.

Also on Wednesday, Cleland rejected yet another motion from Sandusky's defense to delay the trial. This time, Amendola argued that a judicial gag order had been violated by an unidentified source who told ABC News about supposed love letters written from Sandusky years ago to one of his accusers. Those missives, the network reported Tuesday, are expected to be introduced as evidence at his trial next week.

(Some information was compiled from press pool reports.)


Visit Philly.com throughout the day for live coverage of the Sandusky trial.

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

 

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