BELLEFONTE, Pa. – Several prospective jurors reported to court on the first day of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial Tuesday wearing gear with Penn State logos, including one person wearing a "White-out" T-shirt, normally worn at Nittany Lions football games. Four said they knew Sandusky personally and two said they knew his wife.
It was thought that finding 12 impartial jurors and four alternates for the high-profile case would be difficult because Judge John Cleland has ruled the jury will be chosen from local Centre County citizens. However, nine jurors were chosen Tuesday and it appears a jury should be seated by the end of the week. One of the jurors selected is a senior student at Penn State who reported for jury duty wearing a Navy blue T-shirt that read "Penn State Archery."
The case made national headlines when it broke this fall and the area is filled with people who have ties to the university or are simply fans of the football team. Sandusky was a longtime assistant Penn State football coach.
Another obstacle in seating an impartial jury? The Second Mile – a charity Sandusky created in 1977 – was one of Pennsylvania's largest providers of youth social services. Prosecutors allege Sandusky met his young victims through the charity, which shut down in May in the wake of the allegations.
Cleland said potential jurors who are Penn State employees won't be automatically disqualified from serving. They will be pulled aside and asked about what they know and how long they have worked for the university.
Cleland told the jurors he understood many had already heard about the case.
"We do ask you to say, 'I can keep an open mind,' " the judge said.
Tuesday morning, 220 prospective jurors arrived at the Centre County Courthouse in downtown Bellefonte, a windy, 10-mile drive from Penn State's campus. Twelve jurors and four alternates will be chosen to try Sandusky, who is charged with 52 criminal counts for alleged abuse of 10 boys over 15 years.
Sandusky has maintained his innocence. Cleland said he wants opening statements to begin by Monday. The trial is expected to last three weeks.
Cleland said he will not sequester potential jurors, but did ask them not to watch TV, read newspapers or check Facebook. Jurors were given a list of potential witnesses, which included Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary and his father, John; the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno's son Jay and wife, Sue; and Sara Ganim, who won a Pulitzer Prize in reporting on the case.
Sandusky, 68, was in the courtroom alongside his attorney, Joe Amendola. Sandusky's wife, Dottie, was not in attendance.
"I need you to keep an open mind as the defendant is charged with sexual abuse of children," Cleland told the jurors.
The allegations surrounding Sandusky have rattled the Penn State community, which reveres the football team and has long subscribed to the school's motto, "Success with Honor."
Four university officials – including school president Graham Spanier and Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno – were dismissed in November for not taking appropriate action. Those decisions led to students taking the streets in State College, some flipping over news trucks.
But Tuesday, all seemed relatively quiet. Besides about 100 reporters and a handful of news trucks on the courthouse lawn, it was business as usual in the quaint Central Pennsylvania town.
Jim Bean, Bellefonte School District's Director of School Affairs, stood on the intersection outside the courthouse wearing a red vest directing traffic. There is an elementary school a few blocks away, Beam said, and he wanted to make sure kids got to school safely and weren't "distracted by the circus."
"So far everything seems good," Bean said. "But I think the real crazy stuff will begin next week."
Emily Kaplan is covering the Jerry Sandusky trial on Twitter at @Ekaplan24. She is a senior at Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism and previously worked for The Associated Press.
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