Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Attention shifts to court: Rules, precautions in place for Sandusky preliminary hearing

Centre County courthouse, Bellefonte.
Centre County courthouse, Bellefonte. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

In terms of the crowds it is expected to draw, and the national media attention, Jerry Sandusky’s preliminary hearing Tuesday is expected to be one of the biggest events to ever take place at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

Here’s a quick rundown on what preparations are in place for Tuesday, who the major players are, and what’s at stake:

The case

Former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who in 1977 founded The Second Mile charity for at-risk youth, faces 52 charges that he sexually abused 10 boys between 1994 and 2009.

What is a preliminary hearing?

It’s the first opportunity for the two sides to present evidence and question witnesses. The prosecution must present a “prima facie” case —- basically it must show some evidence of each crime, and show that the defendant may have committed the crime. 

What's at stake?

A district judge presides over the hearing. If he finds the prosecution has established a prima facie case, the case will be “bound over” to the trial court, which in this case is the Centre County Court of Common Pleas. If the district judge finds the prosecution has not established a prima facie case, the judge will dismiss the charges.

Major players

The defendant: Jerry Sandusky, 67, of Lemont, is former defensive coordinator of the Nittany Lions. In 1977, he founded The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youth. He retired from Penn State in 1999. He is charged with sexually abusing 10 boys, all of whom prosecutors say he met through The Second Mile programs.

The judge: Senior District Judge Robert Scott, 74, served as district judge in Westmoreland County from 1970 through 2000. Since 2000, he has served a senior district judge. A senior judge is one who is retired, but is available to hear cases by appointment. An out-of-county judge was assigned to preside over the hearing at the request of Centre County Court President Judge David Grine.

The attorneys: Joseph Amendola is the attorney representing Sandusky. Amendola lives in State College and is a 1970 Penn State graduate. The Attorney General’s Office has a team of attorneys on the case, and it was not clear who would lead the team, but among the team is Deputy Attorney General Joseph E. McGettigan, who appeared at Sandusky’s arraignment Tuesday. McGettigan, 62, has worked in the state Attorney General’s Office and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia.

The witnesses: The Attorney General’s Office has refused to comment on who will be called to testify at the preliminary hearing. It is expected that several of the people identified by the investigating grand jury as victims of Sandusky will testify.

Where it will happen

The hearing will take place in the Centre County Courthouse, Courtroom one. According to court officials, the courtroom has about 200 seats. 

A portion have been allocated to those directly involved in the proceeding, and another 100 seats have been reserved for media. The court held a lottery last week, in which 1,339 people applied, to determine which members of the public would occupy the remaining seats.

There also will be a satellite courtroom, where the proceedings can be viewed via video transmission.

Preparations

The Sandusky hearing will be the only hearing held Tuesday in the Centre County Courthouse. County Administrator Denise Elbell said everything else has been canceled for the day.

Several streets in downtown Bellefonte will be closed beginning at 6 p.m. Monday until midnight Tuesday. Borough police said Allegheny Street between Howard and Bishop streets will be closed, as will West High Street between Allegheny and Spring streets, and East High Street on both sides of the courthouse. 

Rules

The preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Only those with reserved seats will be permitted in either courtroom one or the satellite courtroom. 

No one will be admitted to either courtroom after 8:15 a.m., except as authorized by the county sheriff. Court officials say they anticipate there will be a morning session and an afternoon session, with occasional recesses. 

All those attending are expected to remain in their seats until a recess, or until the end of the session. Those who leave during the morning session won’t be readmitted until the afternoon session. Anyone leaving during the afternoon session won’t be allowed back in.

No photography, videography or recording of any kind is allowed in the courtroom. Cellphones must be turned completely off; use of the Internet or telephone to transmit in any way is prohibited.

Impact on Bellefonte 

Parking is expected to be in short supply the day of the hearing. County Administrator Elbell said courthouse employees will have the option to park at the county prison or the nearby St. John’s Lutheran Church and be shuttled to the courthouse.

Due to street closings Monday evening and Tuesday, anyone in the downtown area who has Tuesday trash collection must put out their trash by 6 p.m. Monday. 

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