BELLEFONTE, Pa. – A jury dominated by people with Penn State loyalties was selected Wednesday to decide Jerry Sandusky’s fate in the child sexual abuse scandal that rocked the university and led to football coach Joe Paterno’s downfall.
The seven women and five men who will hear opening statements Monday include an engineering administrative assistant at Penn State, a dance teacher in the continuing education program and a professor who has been on the faculty for 24 years. Also: a Penn State senior, a retired soil sciences professor with 37 years at the university, a man with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school and a woman who has been a season ticket-holder since the 1970s.
Sandusky, a 68-year-old former assistant football coach, is charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year span.
Picking the jury took less than two days, moving along more swiftly than some had expected, given that the rural area is rich with Penn State employees, alumni and fans, many with strong opinions about the case. Bellefonte is 12 miles from Penn State’s main campus in State College.
The judge, however, said Penn State connections would not automatically disqualify potential jurors as long as they could pledge to be impartial.
In all, at least seven of the 12 jurors and two of the four alternates have ties to Penn State. The other jurors are a 24-year-old man with plans to attend auto technician school, a mother of two who works in retail, a retired school bus driver, an engineer and a property management firm employee.
Some legal experts said jurors with Penn State connections might be inclined to come down hard on Sandusky, blaming him for Paterno’s firing and the damage to the school’s reputation. Or they might take their frustrations out on prosecutors for bringing the case in the first place.
St. Vincent College law professor Bruce Antkowiak said the Penn State factor could cut both ways.
“In one sense, you worry about, this guy was for many years of his life a hero of that community, an idol,” Antkowiak said, referring to Sandusky’s role as founder of an acclaimed charity for youngsters.
“On the other hand, there’s also the consideration that there are people who believe this guy betrayed so much of what gave this institution and this area so much of the character and innocence that we love, that he has besmirched it in such a profound way.”
On the list of potential witnesses, along with the young men who have accused Sandusky, are Paterno’s widow and son and assistant coach Mike McQueary, who said he saw Sandusky naked in a team shower with a boy more than a decade ago and reported it to Paterno.
Paterno was fired in November for not acting more decisively against Sandusky. He died of lung cancer two months later at 85.
On Wednesday, defense attorney Joseph Amendola asked again for a delay in the trial, alleging that the judge’s gag order was violated by an ABC report that said the accuser identified in court papers as Victim 4 would be the first witness. Judge John Cleland denied the request.
Amendola arrived with Sandusky at the courthouse in the morning and told reporters he was confident the nine jurors picked so far would give them a “fair shake.” During a midday break in jury selection, lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan said: “So far, so good.”
In court, Sandusky quietly leafed through a binder with plastic-covered pages. During a break, he turned to two media representatives and asked with a chuckle, “What did you guys do to deserve me?” and “How did you guys get stuck with this?”
Several prospective jurors showed up at the courthouse in clothing with Penn State logos. And the web of Penn State connections was evident when a group of 40 potential jurors was questioned Wednesday. Ten indicated they worked at the university. Nineteen indicated they or a close family member had volunteered or contributed financially to Penn State.
Fifteen said they knew someone on the prosecution’s witness list, while 20 knew someone on Sandusky’s defense list.
Juror No. 12 has been a professor at Penn State for more than two decades and worked on a committee with university President Graham Spanier, who was ousted in the wake of the scandal.
Jules Epstein, a criminal defense attorney and law professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware, said the defense might try to use the Penn State-heavy jury to its advantage by calling people with strong ties to the university to vouch for Sandusky’s character.
“If some of those witnesses are also respected in the Penn State community, you are subtly, softly making that link,” he said.
Epstein said the defense would be wise to avoid trying to cast the trial as a vendetta against Penn State and Paterno. Jurors probably will see through that strategy, he said.
“I can see somebody saying, ‘This case isn’t about Penn State. This is about a bunch of youngsters whose lives were ruined,’” Epstein said.
Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam and Joe Mandak contributed to this report.