First nine jurors picked for Sandusky trial
Jerry Sandusky and his attorney, Joe Amendola, leave the Centre County Courthouse after the first day of jury selection for Mr. Sandusky's trial.
Joseph E. McGettigan, senior deputy attorney general and lead prosecutor
Judge John M. Cleland arrives at the Centre County Courthouse for the first day of jury selection.
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BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Nine people were chosen to sit in judgment of former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on the first day of jury selection, and at least four of them have direct ties to the university.
Among those selected were a retired Penn State professor, a rising senior in the fall who works for the athletic department, a man whose father has worked at the school for 30 years, and a 2003 graduate who now teaches high school in Bellefonte.
In what was expected to be a difficult process of seating the panel in such a high-profile case, the process went quickly as attorneys from the prosecution and defense were able to agree on those nine -- five men and four women -- out of just the first 40 individuals questioned.
McKean County Senior Judge John M. Cleland expects the entire panel of 12 jurors and four alternates will be seated by the end of today.
Early on in the process, the judge made it clear that just because a member of the jury pool knew someone involved in the case casually, that would not automatically exclude them from consideration.
"We're in Centre County," he said. "We're in rural Pennsylvania. There are these [connections] that cannot be avoided."
When the prospective jurors -- more than 220 in all -- gathered in Courtroom No. 1 Tuesday morning, Judge Cleland attempted to quickly soothe some of the concerns they had. The jury, which will likely sit for at least three weeks, will not be sequestered.
The reason, the judge said, is that if he can trust them enough to make such an important decision in a criminal trial, then he can trust them "to not read the newspapers. That's the deal. I'm trusting you."
Judge Cleland told the men and women gathered -- all of them but one white -- that they "will hold justice in their hands."
"And you're going to hold in your hands the trust and the confidence of the people of Centre County who you represent. Listen to the evidence, follow the law, think seriously about this case, and do justice."
It soon became clear that seating a jury would not be an arduous process as some had thought when Senior Deputy Attorney General Joseph E. McGettigan III and defense attorney Joe Amendola both agreed on the first person interviewed.
That woman -- who is middle-aged, has two daughters and works at Wal-Mart -- said she had no opinion on Mr. Sandusky's guilt or innocence.
"I really haven't been following it," she said.
In just the first 10 minutes, Juror No. 1 was selected.
The second person selected was a 24-year-old man who will go to school in the fall for automotive technology. His father has worked in Penn State's physical plant for 30 years.
During individual questioning, Mr. Amendola asked the man if it would cause him any concern that many of the witnesses expected to testify are young men in their 20s.
"I don't feel age has any significance as far as evidence or facts," he said.
The third juror seated was a middle-aged woman whose husband is a physician in the same medical group where John McQueary, the father of a key witness in the trial, previously worked as an administrator.
She also has been a Penn State football season ticket-holder since 1976.
Mr. Amendola attempted to have her struck for cause -- meaning that the court orders her out of the pool -- but the judge refused, saying that having ties in the community would be inevitable.
As the defense attorney began to announce he would use his first peremptory challenge to remove her, Mr. Sandusky stopped him. He whispered in his lawyer's ear, and then said aloud, "I think she would be fair."
Mr. Amendola relented, and she was chosen.
It was one of the few moments during the morning's jury selection where Mr. Sandusky spoke at all, or showed any animation.
The jurors who were selected in the afternoon and round out the first nine include:
• A middle-aged man who works as an engineer in State College
• A young man with three children, who is a 2003 Penn State grad and a chemistry teacher at Bellefonte Area High School
• A young woman who works for a property management company in State College
• A young man who will be a senior at Penn State in the fall and who works at the university's athletic center
• An older man who is a retired soil science professor at Penn State
• An older woman who is a retired school bus driver
The college student, who wore a Penn State archery shirt and played on an all-star team with one of the potential witnesses as his coach, said he believed serving on the jury would be hard.
"I hope it's hard for everyone," Judge Cleland said. "If it's easy, we have the wrong jury."
During Tuesday's proceedings, jurors learned the names of potential witnesses who may be called to testify. Among them were Sue Paterno, wife of the late Joe Paterno; their son, Jay; a former assistant coach; and former university president Graham Spanier.
Each side had used five of its seven peremptory challenges by the end of the day, leaving them with two to seat the rest of the 12-person panel. They will each have one additional to seat the four alternates.
It appeared that the defense used several of its challenges on potential jurors who had young sons or sons in their 20s.
For the prosecution, it used its very first strike on a nurse who said during individual questioning that "people make up stories all the time."
First Published June 6, 2012 12:00 am