Most Sandusky jurors have ties to PSU
BELLEFONTE — Connections to Penn State among the 12 jurors and four alternates who will decide the fate of former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky were unavoidable, given the mammoth university’s presence in this small town, experts said on Wednesday.
Attorneys finished seating the nine women and seven men who will begin hearing evidence on Monday in the trial, which is expected to run through the month. Sandusky, 68, is accused of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year span, at times in Penn State athletic facilities.
Eight of the 12 jurors and two of the four alternates have connections to Penn State, either because they or their relatives work there or obtained degrees from the college, a tie that could either help or hurt Sandusky once deliberations begin, experts said.
“There are competing considerations,” said Bruce Antkowiak, head of the criminology and law program at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. “My experience with jurors is they take the matter very, very seriously and want to do the right thing with the case. The background of Penn State will never be eliminated from the case, but I don’t think it will predominate the jurors’ focus.”
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.
Of the 40 potential jurors initially questioned in the morning, 10 indicated they worked at Penn State. Nineteen indicated either they or a close family member had volunteered or financially contributed to the university.
Amanda Kristen of Port Matilda was among those dismissed after the jury was selected. She said she arrived for duty believing an impartial jury couldn’t be selected, but changed her mind by the second day of juror interviews.
“There were a lot people I found who knew nothing about the case,” she said.
The jurors who were seated include a Penn State senior, two current and one retired professor, an administrative assistant in the engineering department and several alumni.
It’s unclear whether that would favor the prosecution or defense, as Sandusky was a major figure in the school’s iconic football program but could be viewed as the guy responsible for besmirching that storied image, Antkowiak said.
“It’s certainly unusual to find a case that steeped in a community’s identity to be tried in that community,” said Donna McClelland, a former Greensburg prosecutor who is now with the McClelland Law Group in Pittsburgh. “I would have thought it would be completely impossible to pick a fair jury. In the end, only time will tell.”
Leaving courtin the afternoon, lead defense attorney Joseph Amendola said he thought the jury selection process was “fair.” Earlier, lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan, a senior deputy attorney general, said “So far, so good,” when asked by reporters how jury selection was going as he went to a picnic table outside the courthouse to smoke.
Sandusky had no comment as he climbed into Amendola’s sport utility vehicle. Amendola declined to answer further questions, citing a gag order trial Judge John M. Cleland imposed in March.
Amendola again asked Cleland for a trial delay, alleging that an ABC News report saying that the accuser identified in court papers as Victim 4 would be the first witness violated the gag order. Cleland denied Amendola’s request. According to the news report, one of the first pieces of evidence which will be introduced will be love letters Sandusky wrote to the victim, who is now 28.
Sources called the letters “creepy,” ABC reported. The alleged victim will testify about gifts, including a set of golf clubs, that Sandusky gave him, ABC reported.
Although Sandusky insisted upon keeping jury selection in Centre County, some observers doubted attorneys would be able to seat a jury in the community where about one-third of the residents have strong connections to the university, the biggest employer in Centre County.
Jeff Holter, an education consultant who has held Penn State season tickets for about 40 years, said he was not surprised to see people with Penn State connections seated for the trial. Holter was released from the jury.
“Around here there’s not much option. We’re all connected to Penn State,” he said.
Who will decide?
The jury in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial includes seven women and five men, all white Centre County residents. The four alternates — three women and one man — also are white.
• The first juror chosen is a woman who told lawyers she has two daughters and works at Wal-Mart.
• Juror No. 2 is a man, 24, who is studying mechanics and whose father works at Penn State.
• The third juror is a middle-aged woman whose husband works with the same medical group as Michael McQueary’s father, John. Michael McQueary is a key witness in the case who says he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the football facilities in 2001.
• No. 4 is an engineer from State College who said he has no ties or loyalties to Penn State.
• The fifth juror chosen graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in 2003 and a master’s degree in 2008. He teaches physics and chemistry at Bellefonte Area High School. He told attorneys he has three children at home.
• Juror No. 6 is a woman in her 20s who works for a property management firm in State College and has some interactions with students.
• The seventh juror will be a senior at Penn State in the fall, wore a school jersey to jury selection and played high school football for Steve Turchetta, who worked with Sandusky.
• Juror No. 8 is a retired soil sciences professor from Penn State who spent 37 years at the university.
• A woman who is a retired school bus driver was chosen as Juror No. 9.
• The tenth juror is a woman in her 50s who is an administrative assistant in the Penn State engineering department.
• Juror 11 is a dance instructor with a young son whose husband works at Penn State.
• The last juror is a woman in her 50s who 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.
• No. 1 is a woman in her 30s, who graduated from Penn State in 2007 with a degree in human development.
• The second alternate is a middle-aged woman who told attorneys she has no children and is a not a heavy news consumer.
• No. 3 is a man in his late 50s or early 60s who told attorneys he is a big supporter of Penn State football and his wife is the director of a program at Penn State called Upward Bound that works on getting economically disadvantaged children into college and keeping them there.
• Alternate No. 4 is a woman in her early 60s who said she has no connections or loyalties to Penn State and does not follow football. She said she left the Penn State area at the age of 19 and returned at 63.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, email@example.com or via Twitter .