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Choosing a jury for Sandusky case a trial unto itself
So many in pool have Penn State ties
BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Picking 12 people to decide Jerry Sandusky’s fate in the child-molestation case that brought down legendary coach Joe Paterno and scandalized Penn State could prove a monumental task in a county where practically everyone went to the university, or works there, or knows someone there or is a fan of the football team.
Jury selection is set to begin Tuesday in the case against Mr. Sandusky, 68, the former assistant Penn State football coach accused of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. The proceedings will take place in Bellefonte, about 10 miles from State College, home of the university.
The prosecution and defense will have to find jurors who say under oath that they can be impartial potentially a tall order given the extraordinarily heavy news coverage of the scandal, the area’s strong connections to Penn State, and the wide reach of the youth charity Mr. Sandusky ran.
“It’s going to be a very, very difficult chore to pick a jury in that community,” said Brian McMonagle, a Philadelphia defense attorney unconnected to the case.
Whether those Penn State ties work to the advantage of the defense or the prosecution also remains to be seen.
Prosecutors, though, were so concerned that they asked Judge John Cleland to bring in prospective jurors from another county.
“The life of the university and Centre County are inextricably intertwined, both philosophically and economically,” prosecutor Joseph McGettigan wrote. “To ask members of that community to … insulate themselves from the institution which informs so many aspects of their lives is asking too much.”
Judge Cleland rejected the request but said he would reconsider if a jury isn’t selected in a reasonable amount of time.
The proceedings will begin with a pool of 200 prospective jurors from a county of 154,000 people. They will be questioned about their feelings about Mr. Sandusky and the case, and about any personal ties to the opposing lawyers or to the defendant, who for more than 30 years ran a charity in State College where prosecutors say he met his young victims.
The defense opposed bringing in an out-of-town jury.
Paterno was dismissed in November for not acting more decisively in 2001 after a member of his coaching staff reported seeing Mr. Sandusky in the locker room showers with a boy. Paterno, head coach of the Nittany Lions for 46 years, died of lung cancer in January at age 85.
Stephen Capone, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer of 32 years, said the judge probably will not automatically disqualify anyone with a Penn State connection. Instead, he said, he suspects the judge will ask prospective jurors if their ties to the university would prevent them from rendering a fair decision, and those who answer yes will be dismissed.
On Monday, the judge ruled that Mr. Sandusky’s alleged victims will have to testify using their real names, and that tweets or other electronic communications by reporters will not be permitted during the trial. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, meanwhile, dashed Mr. Sandusky’s hopes for a last-minute delay of the trial.
Penn State said on a website Monday that the scandal had cost the university $9.6 million as of March 31. That does not include the hiring of two new public-relations firms in April for about $2.5 million to help with the fallout from the crisis.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
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