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Sandusky jury is well on its way to being seated, and it will include Penn State students and fans

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

He'll be a senior at Penn State in the fall. He works part-time in the school's athletic facilities. And Tuesday he reported to jury duty wearing a Penn State archery shirt, flashing a Nittany Lion for all to see, even though he knew he might be selected for the Jerry Sandusky sexual molestation trial that has rocked his school to its core.

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A court sketch shows Judge John M. Cleland addressing the jury pool. (Reuters)

He is now known as Juror No. 7, one of nine people (five men, four women) seated Tuesday for the highly anticipated trial of Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator facing 52 counts for sexual abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Seven more jurors (alternates included) are needed. Considering the brisk pace of the selection process that will continue Wednesday, the trial should begin as scheduled Monday at 9 a.m.

Juror No. 7 was not alone in deciding to wear Penn State gear. About a half dozen others among the 220 potential jurors that descended on little Bellefonte, Pa., sported Nittany Lions shirts and Nittany Lions logos.

They were Nittany Lions walking right into a courthouse that was seeking impartial jurists to determine a case that, while not directly involving Penn State football, is, like everything else among the rolling rural hills of Centre County, forever intertwined with the powerhouse program.

The logos, while head-turning, hardly mattered. It would've been more surprising if no one wore Penn State gear. That's how prevalent the school and the team are in a county of just 154,000 people.

While most refrained from wearing their Penn State allegiances on their sleeve, there's no breaking the ties.

[Related: Several prospective jurors arrive at court wearing Penn State gear]

That Juror No. 7 was seated says it all. He's not just a Penn State student and employee. He also has a cousin who played football at the school, although after Sandusky retired as a coach. And he acknowledged he'd read a great deal about the case and had opinions. He stated that he could put biases aside, and that was enough to earn a spot deciding Sandusky's fate.

He was just one of many school ties. Juror 8 is a retired Penn State professor. Juror 5 is a graduate of the school. Juror 2 is the 24-year-old son of a university employee.

Then there is Juror 3, a woman married to a physician that had worked with the father of Mike McQueary, a former Penn State assistant and potential key witness. She and her husband have held Penn State football season tickets for 24 years.

Sandusky's attorney, Joe Amendola, requested she be struck from consideration due to her familiarity with the McQuearys, according to a report, but Judge John Cleland rejected the motion.

"We're in Centre County," Cleland said. "We're in rural Pennsylvania. There are these (connections) that cannot be avoided."

Amendola appeared set to use one of his eight peremptory challenges. Then Sandusky stopped his lawyer.

"I think she would be fair," Sandusky said.

And so despite those red flags, Juror No. 3 is in.

Having nine jurors seated from an initial batch of just 40 on the first day doused concerns that selecting a jury from this small community would be impossible.

Cleland had granted the defense's pretrial argument that a local jury pool be sought. If fair minds couldn't be found, however, the judge reserved the right to bring in citizens from other parts of the state where the ties to the school and the team aren't so prevalent.

Tuesday just reaffirmed that this remains, forever, Penn State country.

The jury is going to contain Penn State fans. There is no way to avoid them. Some may have deep and emotional ties to the team, the school and perhaps to the late, legendary coach Joe Paterno, who still casts a huge shadow over the entire saga.

How each side deals with jurors woven into the fabric of the Penn State community is just one of many subplots in the trail.

The challenge of finding a fair and impartial jury just miles from Beaver Stadium hasn't lost on prosecutors.

In January they argued that the jurors should hail from a different part of the state and be brought to Centre County to hear the evidence. They expressed concern about maintaining a potential guilty verdict on appeal if locals determined the case. A pool of citizens from, say, Pittsburgh or Philadelphia not only would have been inundated with less media and public commentary about the case, but almost certainly would be less connected with the school.

Amendola, however, took the somewhat unusual strategy of arguing against bringing in a less familiar jury or asking for a change of venue. While this may not be the exact juror he wanted, this is the pool they sought.

Of the first 40 jurors to be considered, four said they knew Sandusky personally. Two others knew his wife, Dottie. That's 15 percent of a small sample size.

That's life in Centre County.

What the ties to Penn State could mean is anyone's guess and could serve as the wild card of this trial.

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Jerry Sandusky follows his laywer Joseph Amendola out of the courtroom Tuesday. (Reuters)

Sandusky faces a daunting defense. There are eight expected witnesses who will testify he molested them as children, so perhaps his game plan is to find one just sympathetic juror that could prevent a guilty verdict.

Perhaps there is a Penn State fan that fondly remembers Sandusky's bold defensive game plan credited for upsetting Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl and giving Paterno his second national title. Or maybe there is a juror who knows of the many positive works of Sandusky's Second Mile charity.

Still another could see the case, and the state prosecutors that brought it, as the reason for Paterno being fired in disgrace and the university being dragged through the mud nationally.

Or maybe a Penn State fan is more likely to hold malice at Sandusky, who is accused of boldly using Penn State facilities to abuse some of the boys.

No one knows. Perhaps no one ever will.

There's another X-factor. Prospective jurors were shown a series of names of potential witnesses in the case and asked if they were personally familiar with them. Included on that list were Sue Paterno, Joe's wife, and Jay Paterno, his son and long-time Penn State assistant.

Paterno, despite his firing and the ongoing questions about him not aggressively investigating and stopping Sandusky, remains iconic for many fans.

How would a Penn State fan react to JoePa's wife and son taking the stand so soon after his death? Would their testimony carry more weight? Less? Would they stir emotions and shift opinion?

Penn State football isn't on trial here. Penn State University isn't either.

However, the school's popular battle cry – "We Are, Penn State" – tells of a team, a university and a community that is tied tighter than most.

This is Centre County. There's no escaping the Nittany Lions and all that may entail, whether a juror is wearing the school colors or not.

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