Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Judge sets Sandusky trial date; on witness stand, Sandusky says he thinks he can get a fair trial in Centre County

Jerry Sandusky, front, arrives at the Centre County Courthouse, in Bellefonte, Pa., for a hearing, Friday, February 10, 2012. Nabil K. Mark
Jerry Sandusky, front, arrives at the Centre County Courthouse, in Bellefonte, Pa., for a hearing, Friday, February 10, 2012. Nabil K. Mark Centre Daily Times

BELLEFONTE —Jerry Sandusky told a judge he thinks jurors from Centre County will give him the best chance for a fair trial.

Sandusky took the stand today during a hearing addressing prosecutors' request for an out-of-county trial to hear the case. Under oath, he assured the judge he's OK proceeding to trial with a jury picked from Centre County residents.

Sandusky and his attorney, Joe Amendola, opposed the change of venire request. Sandusky told the judge he talked to Amendola "probably twice" about it.

By saying he wishes to proceed with a local jury, he can't appeal a conviction on the grounds of a biased jury, or that his attorney wasn't effective, Senior Judge John Cleland told him.

Cleland didn't immediately rule on the matter today, but instead said he would make a decision quickly. Prosecutors expect a decision early next week, perhaps Monday,

Sandusky, who faces 52 counts of child sex abuse, spoke to reporters in front of the Centre County courthouse steps for a few minutes after the hearing ended. Without taking questions, he said that his chances of a fair trial are as good with local jurors as with any others.

He also addressed some of his Lemont neighbors' concerns about his presence on his deck.

Cleland had asked Sandusky to take the witness stand to affirm his attorney's argument that he wants his client's trial to stay in Centre County.

Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, left the courthouse after his testimony.

Cleland set a tentative trial date of May 14. He said he will issue decisions on five motions considered in the hearing as quickly as possible. Those included the grand jury testimony, motions to compel pretrial discovery, modify bail and to change venire, and a motion to ease restrictions on Sandusky so he can see his family.

Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach, is facing charges that he sexually abused 10 boys over a period of 15 years. Prosecutors allege that Sandusky met the boys through the Second Mile, an organization he founded to help at-risk youth.

Sandusky denies the allegations, but Senior Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo said they present "very strong case."

Today's hearing addressed prosecutors' request for an out-of-county jury for the case. The state argues that residents of Centre County are too closely tied to the case to be impartial. Prosecutor Joseph McGettigan said one in three people in Centre County are connected to Penn State, through working there, attending school or having graduated from the university.

Amendola opposes the request. After the hearing, Amendola said he might seek a later date for the trial, depending on the amount of evidence he needs for his case.

Sandusky sat beside Amendola during the hearing that, once again, drew national attention to the scandal.

Early this morning, the courthouse was surrounded by media trucks, but traffic in downtown Bellefonte appeared to be largely unaffected by the case. About 100 seats were open to the public.

The hearing also addressed a request by Sandusky to have his bail modified to allow him to see his grandchildren. Prosecutors in the case oppose those changes and filed a strongly worded argument against it. The prosecution only wants Sandusky to leave his house if he needs medical care.

Prosecutors cited complaints that Sandusky, whose property borders a playground on the Lemont Elementary School's lot, has been seen outside his home. Prosecutors said a neighbor took several videos of Sandusky on his back porch. It appeared the videos were handed over to the court. 

Amendola has argued his client has been “a prisoner in his home” since being arrested in November but has complied with the conditions of his bail. The prosecution’s concerns for the safety of children in Sandusky’s area are unfounded, he said.

Sandusky defended himself against his neighbors' concerns.

"Our home has been open for 27 years to all kinds of people, people who have stayed here, hundreds of people who stayed there, more than that who visited there," he said after today's hearing. "I've associated with thousands of young people over years.

"And now, all of a sudden because of allegations and perceptions that have tried to have been created of me, I can't take our dog on my deck and throw out biscuits to him. Now, all of a sudden these people turn on me when they've been in my home with their kids, when they've attended birthday parties, when they've been on that deck, when their kids have been playing in my yard, and when their kids have been sled riding, when they've asked to sled ride in our home. It's difficult for me to understand, to be honest."

Check back here for updates on the hearing.