BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Picking 12 people to decide Jerry Sandusky’s fate in the child-molestation case that brought down coach Joe Paterno and scandalized Penn State could prove a monumental task in a county where practically everyone went to the university, works there, knows someone there or is a fan of the football team.
Jury selection is set to begin today in the case against Sandusky, the 68-year-old 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 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 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 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.”
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 out of a county of 154,000 people. They
will be questioned about their feelings about 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.
Stephen Capone, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer of 32 years, said the judge will probably not automatically disqualify anyone with a Penn State connection.