1 year later, Sandusky trial memories flood back

mdawson@centredaily.comJune 8, 2013 

Centre County Deputy Sheriff Chris Snare’s hands were sweating.

As he passed through the back entrance of the county courthouse into the parking lot, camera flashes lit up the summer night sky. Video cameras pointed at him, just-convicted Jerry Sandusky and Sheriff Denny Nau memorialized their quick walk to the cruiser that drove Sandusky away from the scene that put Bellefonte on the map for two weeks last year.

Snare was only two months into his job as a deputy when Nau asked him to help deliver Sandusky to the county jail for holding until his sentencing.

“It was a shock for him to ask me,” said Snare, a Bellefonte Area graduate in the Class of 2006. “I honestly did not know how big a deal it was at the time.”

Well, it didn’t take long to sink in.

Heading home the night of June 22, 2012, Snare discovered he had 30 missed text messages from friends and family who saw him on TV. The next morning, the still image of the perp walk was plastered across the front pages of newspapers nationwide.

Snare was among the dozens of local people whose daily routine, whether for moments, minutes or months, went off-course and collided with the Sandusky trial that captivated the country when it played out one year ago starting this week.

Well before Snare and the sheriff escorted Sandusky out of courthouse, word that the jurors had reached a verdict made its way to Maxine Ishler, the county court administrator. For the better part of the eight months it took to get Sandusky to trial, Ishler lived and breathed that case while juggling her job managing the court processes for the hundreds of criminal and civil cases in the county.

So when Judge John Cleland told her to be ready for the verdict, she was emotional.

“I just remember actually getting chills, and I know when I was speaking to Judge Cleland, my voice even cracked,” Ishler said. “I just think it was, you get the point we’ve all spent so much time and energy, and we were so saturated with it, that was the moment,” she said, pausing to search for a word to describe it. “I don’t know.”

Ishler sat in the courtroom while the jury foreman read off guilty verdicts on 45 of 48 counts. It was the first time in her more than 20 years as court administrator she’d sat in for the verdict, but for Ishler, not being there for the climax of the trial would have been like missing a party she planned for months.

The planning for how to safely and smartly handle a high-profile case started after the grand jury presentment was made public in November 2011, and by December, Ishler and local officials developed protocols they relied on for the subsequent court proceedings.

Ishler’s staff posted every single court motion or judge’s order on the county’s website as a way of streamlining the way the public and the media could access the files. The idea was duplicated in Dauphin County for the Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and Graham Spanier cases, and the state’s court system has piggybacked the idea by putting online case files that are of interest to the public.

In addition, Ishler’s staff started a registration process for people from the public and media who wanted to attend. Ishler reached out to downtown Bellefonte businesses and kept them in the know about when a court hearing would occur.

With the help of the statewide print and broadcast media trade associations, Ishler and her staff arranged to accommodate the dozens of TV trucks that became fixtures in front of and behind the courthouse for the duration of the trial.

Ishler had her share of hair-pulling, out-of-the-ordinary requests, too.

A broadcast company asked to have tree branches in front of the courthouse trimmed 10 feet from the ground. A network wanted to put a camera on the back of the courthouse. She was also told a 16-foot long generator was coming, and when it showed up, it was on a 32-foot flatbed.

“As hectic and stressful as it was, I met a lot of wonderful people who are very dedicated in their jobs doing what they need to do,” Ishler said. “I truly learned that if you respect others they will respect you in return.”

During the trial, she was in the courthouse at 5 a.m. to get things ready for the day. At night, she made notes of important things she wanted to remember the next day.

Court officials planned for a three-week trial and had made reservations for jurors, who would be sequestered during their deliberation, in State College. But when the trial progressed quicker than expected and the jury got the case a week earlier, Ishler and staff had to turn to Plan B to find places to put up the jurors.

The jury stayed in State College the first night, June 21, 2012, and that ended up being the only overnight accommodations needed. But had deliberations gone past the next night, Ishler would have had to put the jurors up in a hotel in Mill Hall, because a volleyball tournament in State College had all hotel rooms in the area booked, she said.

The plaudits for pulling off a well-organized trial have been rolling in.

Ishler was invited to speak at a recent jury management seminar about the trial, and in March, she also spoke about the trial at the Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association convention in Harrisburg, and court administrators with high-profile cases in Philadelphia and Monroe counties also phoned her for advice.

Last week, at the Pennsylvania Association of Court Management conference at Penn State’s campus, judges she didn’t know commended her for the work her office did, she said.

And recently, a woman who lives in the Brockerhoff House stopped her on the street and praised the court system for “doing a good job,” Ishler said.

“In all my years working for the courts, this was probably my most stressful situation but probably one of the proudest achievements I think any court administrator could strive for because we had a good team here,” she said.

The one moment during the trial that Ishler and her colleagues did not expect was hundreds of people who assembled in front of the courthouse awaiting word of the verdict. The crowd roared, and soon after then-Attorney General Linda Kelly took to the podium.

“Someone came and got Judge Cleland, his wife and I and said, ‘You’ve got to come to this window and look at this,’” said Ishler, who would look down as the attorney general was addressing the crowd with a victory speech.

While the jubilation outside just began, the courtroom was quiet.

Court officials had chairs set up for any jurors, who after two days of deliberating, wanted to do interviews with the media.

None came.

It took juror No. 10, Joan Andrews, about a month before she was ready to talk to co-workers, friends and family about the experience that made her disappear for three weeks from her job as an finance administrative assistant in Penn State’s department of energy and mineral engineering.

“I needed time to filter everything and really get a feel for how I felt about the entire situation,” said Andrews, of Pleasant Gap.

People were curious about her experience, but they didn’t pressure her.

The media, though, were the opposite. Reporters showed up at her house, and one trying to get to her went as far as going to a co-worker’s home on Purdue Mountain.

Since then, though, the attention has tapered off.

However, Andrews’ disdain for Sandusky has not waned.

“I watched him a lot during that trial,” Andrews said. “To me, it was almost like he was sitting here hearing this horrible stuff being said about himself and he sat there with that half-smirk smile on his face.

“I don’t think he deserves any kind of appeal process. Period.”

Andrews didn’t believe Dottie Sandusky when she testified as a character witness for her husband’s defense.

Dottie Sandusky defended her husband, saying he was not the monster who the young men made him out to be. She said her basement was not soundproof, as one of the young men testified he screamed out for her to no avail.

“I sat there in disbelief that she was making those statements, denying she heard anything,” Andrews said. “Give me a break. These young people were in her house. These young people were crying out for help.

“Not one juror thought she spoke the truth about much of anything.”

What really angered Andrews was defense attorney Joe Amendola accusing the victims of conspiring together to make the allegations in the hope of getting a big pay day.

“No way,” Andrews said. “I thought, ‘Was this for real? Is this guy for real?’ ”

Andrews said the jurors became friends because of the shared experience, and she thinks very highly of the judge.

But while she has fond memories, she said she does not “care to go through anything like that again.”

Some of those who wouldn’t mind seeing a high-profile case every now and then in downtown Bellefonte are restaurant owners, who saw a spike in business for those two weeks last year.

At Mamma Lucrezia’s on South Allegheny Street, few seats were available during the lunchtime rush, as reporters — and even prosecutors Joseph E. McGettigan III and Frank Fina — tried to grab lunch or a soda.

In the downtown diamond, the Dairy Queen, now the Bellefonte Twist, was mobbed throughout the trial as a ground zero with free wireless Internet and plenty of tables and outlets to plug in laptop computers.

And at Cool Beans coffee shop on West High Street, Wendy Fultz had a line from the counter to the door for eight hours each day, she said.

The shop opened earlier and closed later to accommodate the crush of reporters who could use the wireless Internet and comfy seating for workspaces.

Some days, they were wiped out of food.

“We did at least double, if not triple, our business every day,” said Fultz, who brought on more employees to help with the surge. “It was good for business.”

Sandusky was back in Bellefonte for his sentencing in October and then a post-sentencing hearing in January. Those proceedings were short, compared to the trial, as they didn’t even last the full day.

Now, though, Sandusky is done with Bellefonte. His lawyers are appealing his conviction and 30- to 60-year sentence handed down by Cleland to the state’s Superior Court in Harrisburg.

He’s spending his days in solitary confinement in the state prison outside Waynesburg, Greene County. He gave one known interview since he was imprisoned, and he continued to maintain he was innocent.

The 69-year-old former coach even laughed off the accusation he was sexually assaulting a boy in a Penn State locker room shower in 2001, the episode that led to head coach Joe Paterno losing his job in late 2011.

For Snare, the deputy sheriff who escorted Sandusky out of the courthouse after the guilty verdict and rode with him in silence to the county jail, there is one moment that will stay with him for a long time.

In apparent shock, Sandusky fumbled trying to get out of the car.

“When we pulled up to the sally port at the Centre County Correctional Facility, when I opened up the door for him to get out, he tried to get out, but he had his seatbelt on,” Snare said. “Multiple times.

“It was almost like he was just lost.”

 

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.

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