BELLEFONTE, Pa. — It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone in Centre County who has not heard about the upcoming trial of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State University coach charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. But it took just two days, less time than expected, to seat a jury whose members said they were willing to keep an open mind.
Ten of the 12 jurors and four alternates said they have direct ties to Penn State, which is 12 miles from the courthouse. The 10 women and six men include a rising senior at the university, a professor of 24 years, an engineering department employee, a retired soil science professor and several alums.
Two jurors, a high school chemistry teacher and a retired school bus driver, have experience working with children.
Sandusky, 68, is accused of sexually abusing young boys who were involved with a mentoring program he founded for at-risk children called the Second Mile. Released on bail after his arrest in early November, he faces 52 charges and has pleaded not guilty.
His trial is scheduled to begin Monday morning and is expected to conclude by the end of the month.
Sandusky was a well-known assistant coach who helped build Penn State’s storied football program. His arrest set off a series of firings, investigations and questions about who knew what. A key witness at his trial is expected to be Mike McQueary, a former Penn State football player and assistant coach, who told investigators that he saw Sandusky in a locker room shower naked with a young boy more than a decade ago and reported the incident to officials, including the team’s iconic coach, Joe Paterno.
Paterno and then-university President Graham Spanier were accused of knowing about the abuse and not properly responding. Neither was criminally charged, but both were dismissed from the school. Paterno died of cancer in January.
Penn State’s former athletic director and a vice president who oversaw the university’s legal services division and police department were charged with failing to properly report suspected child abuse, although a court date has not been set. Attorneys for both men say they are innocent.
Through the two-day jury selection, Sandusky mostly sat quietly, reviewed information in a three-ring binder and occasionally offered input to his attorneys, according to the few reporters whom the judge allowed to observe the process and report back to the mob of journalists camped outside the courthouse in this town of about 6,000. During a break Wednesday morning, Sandusky laughed and joked with two reporters, saying: “What did you guys do to deserve me? How did you guys get stuck with this?”
Potential jurors were asked if they knew anyone who was a victim or a perpetrator of sexual assault. They were also asked whether their job legally requires reporting suspected child abuse. Some were dismissed for a number of reasons: Several said they had paid for beach houses or had to attend graduation ceremonies. A few said they had already formed an opinion about the case.
“I would like to say I could keep a clear mind, but I don’t know if I can say I would guarantee it,” said a woman who added that she grew up in a “Penn State family” and has discussed the case on Facebook. She was dismissed.
Nearly all of those interviewed had children, as do most of those selected for the jury.
When one juror mentioned her 6-year-old son, defense attorney Joseph Amendola asked her whether having a “small boy” would influence how she evaluated evidence and formed a decision. The woman responded that while she is always concerned about her child’s safety, “I know with my son, there are a lot of sides to a story.”
“So I guess what you’re saying is that you recognize kids don’t always tell the truth?” Amendola asked.
“Absolutely,” she said.