Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial set to begin

6:26 AM, Jun 5, 2012   |    comments
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By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

BELLEFONTE, Pa. - Jury selection was set to begin here today, seven months after former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrersted on charges of horrific child sexual abuse involving 10 alleged victims, who prosecutors say were picked by the former coach from the ranks of the charity he founded for at-risk children.

Sandusky, 68, once an icon in a community that celebrated Penn State's many football successes, faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted on 52 criminal counts of alleged child abuse that spanned 15 years.

The first allegations unveiled in November rocked the university whose reputation, until then, had been embodied by its plain-spoken football coach Joe Paterno, who talked of preparing his players for life as much as he readied them for big-time college football Saturdays.

Yet even Paterno, who was the face of the university for nearly a half century, could not survive the revelations involving his former top assistant. Sandusky's arrest ignited a fast-moving crisis that also led to the ousters of then- university President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz.

Neither Paterno or Spanier were charged, but Curley and Schultz await trial on related perjury charges for allegedly lying to a Pennsylvania grand jury about what they were told by a witness to one of Sandusky's alleged assaults against a unidentified boy in 2001.

The witness, former football assistant Michael McQueary, said he told Paterno, Curley and Schultz that Sandusky was involved in sexually charged activity with the boy.

Paterno, as required, first reported McQueary's account to Curley and Schultz. The two administrators later told the grand jury that Sandusky's activities were described as horseplay, not sexual activity.

As many as eight of the alleged victims, whose identities are known to state authorites, are expected to testify. Five of the alleged victims had sought to shield their actual identities by asking trial Judge John Cleland to assign pseudonyms during their testimony. Cleland rejected the request, saying that state law did not allow for such protection.

Cleland also denied repeated requests by Sandusky's defense team to delay the proceedings. Sandusky's latest request for a delay was rejected Monday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Among the challenges for jury selection are the extraordinarily heavy news coverage of the scandal and the wide reach of The Second Mile, the youth charity Sandusky founded in 1977.

"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 The Second Mile, which will play a prominent role in the prosecution's case.

The defense opposed bringing in an out-of-town jury.

Edward Schwartz, a jury consultant in Lexington, Mass., said he suspects the defense will try to shape the case in such a way that the jury will take out its frustration about the firing of longtime head coach Joe Paterno in the aftermath of Sandusky's arrest.

There's risk in such a strategy, however. The jury could instead blame Sandusky for "single-handedly bringing down the reputation of an institution they love and they feel an attachment to," Schwartz said.

Paterno was dismissed in November for not acting more decisively in 2001 after a member of his coaching staff reported seeing Sandusky in the locker room showers with a boy. Paterno died of lung cancer in January at age 85.

Contributing: The Associated Press

USA TODAY

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