Penn State trial to paint 2 portraits of Sandusky
BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (AP) — Jerry Sandusky was widely considered a living sports legend at Penn State University and the founder of an exemplary organization that worked with at-risk children. However, that was before his arrest on child molestation charges seven months ago.
Then came allegations, spelled out in a pair of grand jury reports, that a monster was concealed beneath a veneer of respectability and charitable leadership, a man who would target and groom boys systematically to feed predatory sexual desires.
Despite Sandusky’s repeated delay requests, it now appears the case will get under way Tuesday with the selection of jurors from among his neighbors in the central Pennsylvania county that is home to Penn State, an area that before November could be called Happy Valley without a hint of irony or bitterness.
The case that shook one of the country’s most famous college sports teams to its foundation toppled head football coach Joe Paterno, forced major changes at the highest levels of Pennsylvania’s largest and most prominent university, and raised still-unanswered questions about the response by various people to the warning signs that had periodically arisen over more than a decade.
After months of planning, court officials say they are prepared for what could be several weeks of trial, building on experiences in other states with high-profile proceedings. About 250 reporters have registered to attend, and 29 television trucks are expected in tiny Bellefonte.
“I think we’re ready to go. A few loose ends between now and Monday night, maybe even Tuesday morning, but we’re pretty confident we’re ready,” said Jim Koval, spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
The Penn State football team’s former defensive coordinator has consistently maintained his innocence, so jurors will have to sort out which of the two dramatically opposed versions of Jerry Sandusky is the truth: the avuncular ex-coach devoting his life to help needy children, or the predator who used his access to boys to commit vile and criminal sexual attacks?
He was arrested twice, the first time in early November, when prosecutors charged him with abusing eight boys, including two whose identities had not — and still have not — been determined by investigators, boys witnesses said were subjected to sexual acts by Sandusky inside football team showers.
The second arrest came about a month later, when state prosecutors added charges related to two more boys. Sandusky’s lawyers are still seeking to have all or some of the 52 counts against him dismissed on various grounds, more than enough counts to send the 68-year-old defendant to prison for the rest of his life.
The case has followed a twisted path to trial, starting with the decision by all the judges in Centre County to recuse themselves, so the state Supreme Court brought Judge John Cleland, a veteran jurist from northwestern Pennsylvania, to preside.
More recently, his lawyers sought several times to delay the trial, but a state appeals court turned them down after Cleland ruled against them and kept the case on track to begin this week. Defense attorneys have appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which could rule sometime Monday.
On Friday, a group of news organizations that includes The Associated Press sought clarity on what types of electronic transmissions will be permitted from the courtroom during trial.
Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, has stood by him, posting his bail and issuing a statement in early December that said the accusers had concocted lies that left her “shocked and dismayed.” Sandusky appeared on NBC to deny he was a pedophile and ramble on when asked if he was sexually attracted to boys.
He later revisited the topic, telling The New York Times the question took him aback.
“I was sitting there saying, ‘What in the world is this question?’ You know, if I say, no, I’m not attracted to boys, that’s not the truth, because I’m attracted to young people, boys, girls …” he said.
Sandusky hasn’t given any more interviews, and Cleland later issued a gag order that has effectively stopped his lawyers and prosecutors from talking about the case. But their prior statements and court filings suggest the trial will hinge on testimony by the accusers, and Sandusky’s lawyers are determined to attack their credibility.
Recently, a defense filing referred to Victims 11 through 17, suggesting investigators might have identified seven additional accusers for whom Sandusky has not been charged. Whether those people exist, and if they will testify — or if Sandusky will take the stand — are among the questions the trial should answer.
Lawyers for five of the young men have asked Cleland to take steps to protect their anonymity, but the judge has yet to rule. The AP doesn’t identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted without their consent.
Their testimony will be all the more critical to prosecutors, because unlike sexual abuse cases, the Sandusky investigation likely did not produce forensic evidence. But the scope and nature of the prosecution’s evidence, and its witness list, haven’t been disclosed.
One closely watched witness will be Mike McQueary, an assistant coach who was a graduate assistant in 2001 when he said he saw Sandusky naked in the team showers with a boy of about 10 described in the grand jury report as Victim 2. McQueary didn’t confront Sandusky but reported the incident to Paterno, who contacted Tim Curley, the athletic director.
Paterno, who was removed as coach the week after Sandusky’s arrest, died in January of lung cancer. Curley was later charged, along with university vice president Gary Schultz, with failure to properly report suspected abuse and lying to the investigative grand jury. Both men deny the allegations and await trial.
The trial will focus on the specific criminal charges against Sandusky, so a more complete set of facts may have to wait until the Curley and Schultz case goes to trial, Penn State and others who are investigating release their findings and any civil litigation is resolved. That process could take years to play out.
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