By Mike Dawson, McClatchy Newspapers –
BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Eight people with Penn State ties will sit on the jury to determine the fate of Jerry Sandusky, whose defensive coaching strategies helped bring football glory, but whose arrest and trial have linked the university’s name to a child sex abuse scandal.
Despite skepticism it would be impossible to find a jury here, the 16th and final juror was picked by 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday. It was a quick finish to a laborious process that included a pool of more than 70 — 55 of whom were questioned one on one with the judge and attorneys. At least four days had been set aside for it, but it only took two days.
The 12 jurors who will hear the case and render a verdict consist of seven women and five men. The four alternates, who won’t participate in deliberations, consist of one man and three women. All the jurors are white.
Defense attorney Joe Amendola left the courthouse with Sandusky and co-counsel Karl Rominger about 4 p.m. Amendola said he thought the jury selection process to be “fair” but declined to answer further questions because of the gag order forbidding him to speak to the media.
Trial is scheduled to start with opening statements at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Some of the jurors’ Penn State ties are more direct, such as two women selected Wednesday morning. One works as an administrative assistant in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ department of energy and mineral engineering and the other is a female professor, who told the judge she didn’t want to identify the academic unit where she works.
A Penn State senior chosen Tuesday also works in an athletic facility, and a Bellefonte high school teacher selected Tuesday has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Penn State.
Others have Penn State ties that aren’t necessarily connected to their livelihoods. One woman selected Tuesday has had season tickets to Penn State football games for 36 years. Another young man, 24, plans to enroll this fall at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, which is affiliated with Penn State.
Prosecutors in the case didn’t want a jury to come from Centre County because of the emotional connection to Penn State, but they lost that argument in front of Senior Judge John Cleland because Sandusky said he wanted the trial to take place here. The attorneys’ ability to pick an in-county jury is a win for Amendola, who appears to have known what he was talking about months ago when he told the judge he never had trouble seating a jury in this county.
State College defense attorney Matt McClenahen, who is not involved in the case, said the jury’s connection to Penn State, the area’s economic engine and largest employer, was unavoidable.
“It would be almost impossible to find 12 people in this area who don’t have any ties to Penn State,” said McClenahen. “The key question the judge asked is, ‘Can you be fair and impartial?’
“All of them have said they’re going to be fair and impartial.”
While the jurors’ Penn State connections will likely have them under the microscope, themes seen in other criminal trials showed up throughout the jury selection process.
For instance, the judge had asked each juror if he or she or any relatives had been a victim of or accused of a sexual crime. Affirmative answers to that got the prospective jurors excused.
Amendola homed in on parents who have sons in the age group of the alleged victims or the age of the alleged victims when they said they were abused by Sandusky.
The mother of a 6-year-old boy who’s a part-time dance teacher with Penn State’s continuing education program was on the receiving end of that questioning Wednesday.
“Would the fact that you have a small boy interfere with your ability to hear the evidence in this case and base your decision on the evidence that you hear?” Amendola asked the woman, who appeared to be in her 30s.
She thought she could be fair.
“I know with my son, there are a lot of sides to a story,” she said.
“So I guess what you’re saying is that you recognize kids don’t always tell the truth?” Amendola asked.
“Absolutely,” she said.
The woman was accepted without any challenges.
Prosecutor Joseph E. McGettigan III asked that a woman who teaches in Penn State’s chemistry department be removed because she was sensitive to the impact the case had on the university. Cleland denied McGettigan’s first motion to remove her, so McGettigan used a peremptory challenge.
McGettigan also had a woman who knows retired Penn State detective Ron Schreffler, who investigated Sandusky in 1998 for showering with a young boy now known in the grand jury presentment as alleged victim No. 6, removed.
Two of the four alternates who will serve on the jury have Penn State ties.
One is a man in his 50s who’s a Penn State graduate and attends football games. His wife works at Penn State for Upward Bound, a federal program that helps economically disadvantage high-schoolers go to college.
Sandusky told Amendola he wanted this man on the jury.
The other is a 2007 graduate of Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development. Sandusky spoke at her commencement.
Some people dismissed from jury on Wednesday said they could have been fair, like Jeff Holter, an educational consultant from Bellefonte. He has been a Penn State season ticket holder for more than 40 years.
Alissa Milanese, of Bellefonte, who left Wednesday morning not knowing why she was dismissed also said she could be fair. She said she had family connections to The Second Mile.