Bellefonte gets back to its quiet routine

The sun rises over the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., as the town returned to its normal quiet after Friday night's verdict in the Jerry Sandusky case and the celebration that erupted shortly afterward.
The sun rises over the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., as the town returned to its normal quiet after Friday night's verdict in the Jerry Sandusky case and the celebration that erupted shortly afterward. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 25, 2012

BELLEFONTE, Pa. - People here were glad to reclaim their town on Saturday, even as some questioned the propriety of the whooping, courthouse-lawn celebration that erupted after Jerry Sandusky was convicted.

The cheering, clapping party atmosphere didn't feel right, however correct the jury verdict, said Dona Bradley, who works at the Victorian House, an arts and antiques gallery on Allegheny Street that her son owns.

"It was kind of a mixed feeling," Bradley said. "The verdict was just, but it's not something to cheer about."

As the first spectators and reporters spilled from the courthouse at 10:12 p.m. on Friday, carrying word that Sandusky had been convicted on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse, a huge cheer went up from scores of people who had gathered outside. The noise was so loud, even inside the courtroom, that Sandusky's attorney was asked about it.

"The overwhelming majority of people," counsel Joseph Amendola said simply, "thought he was guilty."

People roamed the lawn, streets, and sidewalks. Some wanted to hear the jury's decision firsthand. Others came to take in the scene - the glare of TV lights, the sight of trial lawyers who have become minor celebrities through the enormous interest in the case.

Prancing on the courthouse steps was Pedobear, a furry mascot originally invented to warn parents of questionable Internet content. Taped to his chest was a sign that said, "Rot in jail, Jerry!"

One woman was hoping to see Anderson Cooper or other network TV stars.

By Saturday afternoon, all but a few TV satellite trucks had departed. The cables, wires, tents, and chairs were gone from the lawn, leaving only empty water bottles, gum wrappers, and bent grass.

"I wouldn't call it a circus," said Suzanne Spayd of Bellefonte, who was waiting for a bus near the courthouse on Saturday. "I'd call it business that wasn't taken care of right at the start, and now it's been taken care of."

Every day, people lined up at 7 a.m. to try to claim one of the public seats in the second-floor courtroom. One woman was a guidance counselor who had recommended students to Sandusky's discredited Second Mile charity - and who lost sleep over the fear that she had put children in danger. Another described herself as an author, teacher, and criminal investigator who said she was writing a book about the case. She showed up early each morning.

"I think justice was served," state Attorney General Linda Kelly told reporters after the verdict, and many here felt the same.

Bellefonte is quaint and inviting, its downtown defined by old brick and brass. On Saturday, it was a town restored, happily returning to a normalcy that means quiet streets, little crime, and no crowds.

The Cool Beans coffee shop, which for three weeks essentially became a working newsroom for dozens of reporters, had but three customers. And there was no waiting at the Dairy Queen, where during the trial the serving line had stretched halfway to the door.

During a week of jury selection and two weeks of trial, many businesses here suffered as shoppers stayed away, put off by the trucks, cables, and legions of reporters, lawyers, and talking-head experts. Attendance was even down for the annual Bellefonte Cruise, a historic-car show and point of community pride that usually draws about 10,000.

"Everyone will be happy to get back to normal," said one shopkeeper who declined to give her name.

At the Victorian House, where a sign in the window advertised "Signed Joe Paterno items," Bradley was ready for a return to the routine.

Her son and his family were at the courthouse when the verdict was announced. Her 11-year-old granddaughter, Bradley said, was even interviewed on television about her reaction.

But Bradley watched on TV at home as Sandusky was taken to jail in handcuffs.

"It's sad and sordid," she said of the case. "We're the county seat, and this is what happens."


Contact Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415, jgammage@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JeffGammage.

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