Back to previous page


Post Most

After Jerry Sandusky verdict, neighbors release emotions

By ,

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — There was a kind of pep rally on the steps of the Centre County courthouse here Friday night after Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts related to sexually abusing boys. There were teary-eyed hugs, shrieks of joy and high-fives all around.

In an ordinarily quiet cul-de-sac about 10 miles down the road in Lemont, the triumphant crackle, burst and flare of fireworks lit up Sandusky’s front lawn. His closest neighbors — expressing their collective relief — had cause for celebration, too.

“This was a nightmare. There was a monster who lived next door,” said Susan Strauss, the mother of six newly adopted children. “There was such a wave of emotion that finally justice would be done. And it was.”

Said Paul Kletchka, whose house is next to the Sanduskys’: “It really hit me last night how this has been occupying my thoughts every waking moment. Now, I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

Sandusky was a revered figure in nearby State College. He was a longtime assistant football coach under Joe Paterno and he founded a respected charity for underprivileged children.

That a jury of his peers determined Friday that Sandusky had used the Second Mile charity to lure victims into his basement bedroom shocked an already divided community.

Karl Rominger, Sandusky’s co-counsel, had stayed up past midnight smoking a cigar and drinking a beer at the Hotel Do-De bar, across the street from the courthouse. He said Saturday morning, in between several television interviews, that the appeals process will vindicate his client.

Rominger said the judge turned down a request by Sandusky’s lawyers to resign from the case on the eve of the trial.

According to Rominger, he and Joe Amendola made a sealed motion as jury selection began saying they had not been given enough time to adequately prepare, but that after discussion in the chambers, Judge John Cleland ruled against them.

“We told the trial court, the Superior Court and the Supreme Court we were not prepared to proceed to trial in June due to numerous issues, and we asked to withdraw from the case for those reasons,” Amendola told the Associated Press.

In Bellefonte, the television crews were mostly gone by 9 a.m. Saturday.

Eric Perryman, the owner and operator of the J & E Guns shop, across the street from the courthouse, said the past week had been business as usual despite all the commotion. He sold several guns throughout the week, he said, including some to out-of-towners here for the trial.

Kathy Sulkowlski, a longtime friend of the Sandusky family, said she was appalled by the jury’s verdict.

“The man I know would never have done this,” she said. “I think he was tried and convicted by the media when this first came out. He didn’t even stand a chance.”

For the time being, Sandusky is incarcerated at the Centre County Correctional Facility, a low-slung brick building with very few windows. It’s on a two-lane road dotted with cornfields and signs that say “DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS.”

While Sandusky spent his first day behind bars, Paul Kletchka enjoyed Saturday afternoon with his toddler son, playing in the grass next to Sandusky’s home. The neighbors had seen Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, return home in the early afternoon, and the house’s blinds were drawn. They’ve been neighbors for 11 years.

“I kind of feel like as a neighborhood we are over one big hurdle but there are still many to go,” he said.

Inside, his wife, Dana, made a snack for their daughter, a first-grader at Lemont Elementary School. Sandusky’s property backs up to the school’s playground.

“It shakes your foundation,” Dana Kletchka said. “Your town isn’t what you thought it was. Your neighborhood isn’t what you thought it was. We’re looking back and thinking, was there something we should have known? Something we might have missed?”

Strauss, a Pennsylvania State University linguistics professor, spoke to The Washington Post last November but did not allow the paper to quote her by name. She was afraid to speak publicly because tensions were so high in the leafy cul-de-sac.

“There were always rumors around town, pieces of a puzzle about Jerry that you could never put together,” Strauss said. “People would say ‘Keep your boys away from Jerry Sandusky.’ And yesterday that puzzle took a very vivid shape.”

Strauss and the Kletchkas gathered Friday night after the verdict was announced to launch fireworks to ease some of their tensions and also to make a statement.

“It was about us speaking up and going public,” Strauss said. “We have voices now. We’re not being silent anymore.”

© The Washington Post Company