BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) — Connections to Penn State weren’t enough to keep prospective jurors from being chosen to decide Jerry Sandusky’s fate on child sexual abuse charges.
The start of jury selection Tuesday showed the strength of Sandusky’s and Penn State’s links to their rural central Pennsylvania community, but the presiding judge indicated that those connections weren’t necessarily enough to keep them from being one of the 12 jurors or four alternates.
Nine jurors were selected Tuesday, including a longtime Penn State football season ticketholder.
In the first questioning of 40 prospective jurors, about half said they or immediate family members worked at Penn State or were university retirees. One woman rented apartments to college students. Four knew Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach. Two knew his wife.
Sandusky’s lawyer won the right to have jurors chosen from the local community, and prosecutors had concerns that Centre County might prove to be nearly synonymous with Penn State. Sandusky had helped build the football team’s reputation as a defensive powerhouse known as “Linebacker U,” his arrest toppled Joe Paterno from the head coaching position just months before his death from cancer, and some of the alleged attacks on children occurred inside university showers.
One of the very first jurors to be seated wasn’t just a season ticketholder since the 1970s: She said John McQueary — a possible trial witness and the father of a key witness — once worked with her husband.
When Sandusky’s lawyer sought to have her removed for cause, Judge John Cleland signaled he would need more grounds.
“We’re in Centre County. We’re in rural Pennsylvania,” Cleland said, noting that such connections “can’t be avoided.”
Sandusky attorney Joe Amendola opted not to use one of his eight challenges, and she joined the panel.
Others selected included a 24-year-old man with plans to attend an auto technician school and a mother of two who works in retail.
All the jurors will have to say under oath they can be impartial.
Prospective jurors also learned that Paterno’s wife and son were among the potential defense witnesses. Members of Sandusky’s family also were on a list shown to the prospective jurors, along with assistant coach Mike McQueary and his father.
Mike McQueary, on leave from the team, has said he saw Sandusky naked in a team shower with a young boy more than a decade ago and reported it to football coach Joe Paterno.
Mike McQueary is also on the prosecution’s list, along with young men who have accused Sandusky of abusing them.
Sandusky, 68, faces 52 criminal counts and potential penalties that could result in an effective life prison sentence for alleged abuse involving 10 boys. He has denied the allegations.
Among those who were struck from the pool were a nurse who said people make up stories all the time — prosecutors used a challenge for her — as well as a man who had volunteered for the charity Sandusky founded, The Second Mile. Also struck were a mother of 10 who said she has made up her mind and a Penn State fan and township manager who said news coverage of the case has been destructive to her community.
Cleland told the more than 220 potential jurors he would not sequester them, meaning they can spend nights at home during the trial that is expected to last several weeks.
While about a dozen TV news trucks and more than 50 reporters waited outside the courthouse for updates, Cleland urged the jury pool to avoid news accounts or social media postings.
“No one in the world will know as much about this trial as the people sitting in the jury box,” Cleland told them.
Sandusky attended jury selection, and laughed at some of Cleland’s humorous remarks to potential jurors. But when Cleland told the pool the nature of the charge, Sandusky put his head down.
More than 600 summonses were sent out to residents in Centre County, the home of Penn State University’s main campus.
Cleland addressed the prospective jurors in a somber, packed courtroom. The prospective panelists were to be taken in groups of 40 for more questions and, ultimately to face one-on-one questioning in a third phase, for those who were not dismissed beforehand. The jurors who were selected were allowed to leave for the day.
Early in the process, jurors were asked to indicate through a system in which they held up cards whether they had connections to Penn State.
About a dozen signaled that they worked or had retired from the university; another half-dozen said they had spouses who worked for the school.
Four indicated they knew Sandusky. Two said they knew his wife, Dottie, who was not in court on Tuesday.
Two potential jurors indicated they had previously volunteered with The Second Mile.
Of the first group of 40 to be questioned Tuesday morning, Cleland dismissed five for medical reasons or vacation plans.
Some of the alleged victims are expected to testify during the trial, the opening of which is likely to begin on Monday morning. Cleland said the trial may last three weeks.
Prosecutors have claimed that Sandusky groomed boys he met through The Second Mile, the charity he founded for at-risk youth in 1977, then attacked them, in some cases in his own home or inside university athletic facilities.