It’s an isolated life for Sandusky trial jurors
There’s no Twitter, Facebook or radio. Smartphones, iPads or laptops? No way. And the phones and televisions were removed from their hotel rooms.
The 12 jurors deliberating the child molestation charges against former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in the Pennsylvania town of Bellefonte have been sequestered and are essentially under a communications blackout.
There’s no access to news or social media, not to mention friends or family; if they want to contact relatives, they must go through court officials. Even personal interactions with other jurors are limited, as they can only talk about the trial that binds them when they deliberate as a group.
“That’s to show that all of you are engaged in the same conversation,” Judge John Cleland told the panel.
The aim is to prevent any outside influence on their discussions and decision-making. It’s also to insulate the jury from headlines that develop beyond the evidence presented in court, as a crush of media encircles the courthouse.
Cleland has instructed jurors to weigh only the case at hand, which charges Sandusky with 48 counts of molestation involving 10 boys.
Theoretically, that would include newly disclosed allegations that Sandusky abused his son Matt. Attorneys for now 33-year-old Matt Sandusky said their client had been prepared to testify against his father if called to the stand.
Those accusations surfaced Thursday afternoon, shortly after jurors began deliberations.
The media blackout also ostensibly insulated the jury from allegations made by Travis Weaver on NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams.” In an interview aired Thursday night, Weaver said Sandusky abused him more than 100 times over four years starting in 1992, when he was 10.
Weaver, 30, sued Sandusky in Philadelphia last fall using the name John Doe.
James DePasquale, a veteran Pittsburgh defense attorney, said blanket rules against outside contact are necessary in an era of 24/7 news coverage and social media.
“If you’re going to truly ‘sequester’ them, you have to do that,” he said Friday, though the specific measures vary from judge to judge.
DePasquale represents Janine Orie, the sister of former state Sen. Jane Orie, who was convicted of corruption earlier this year.
Janine Orie will be retried in August, but the first trial for the sisters ended in a mistrial last year – though not because of anything that happened to that jury, which was sequestered.
While some judges insist on a TV and radio blackout, DePasquale said some judges will let sequestered juries watch “approved television programs or approved movies, things where you know there isn’t going to be any news interjected into the programming.”
“But in the Sandusky case, you can’t even be allowed to watch ESPN,” which might be the kind of programming jurors sequestered in a local criminal trial would normally be allowed to see, DePasquale said.
After the trial started June 11, jurors had been allowed to return at the end of the day to their central Pennsylvania homes during the seven days of testimony.
Now, the seven-woman, five-man jury – and two remaining alternates – will stay in separate hotel rooms until a verdict is reached. The alternates are sequestered in a different hotel than the other jurors. When they are brought into the courthouse, they are shielded from public view.
By Friday afternoon, jurors had been deliberating more than 12 hours.
If the jury needs to contact anyone while deliberating, attendants stationed outside the courtroom will pass along the message. Attendants will also bring food, water or any evidence jurors request.
If any juror is suspected of talking about the case with anyone, Cleland asked other members of the jury to report it so he can investigate and potentially replace them.
Once there is a verdict, it will be up to each juror if he or she wants to speak with reporters, or anyone, about their decision. The tablets they have used to take notes will be destroyed.
Matheson reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press freelance writer Paige Minemyer in Bellefonte contributed.
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