BELLEFONTE — A few hours after Jerry Sandusky was in court Friday, he was on his back porch across from Lemont Elementary School where children had been playing outside a short time before.
It’s that image that has upset his neighbors and has prosecutors in the case arguing he can’t leave his home except to get medical care. But Sandusky and his attorney, Joe Amendola, insist there’s no reason for alarm and that he should be allowed to see his grandchildren.
The bail issue was one of several matters heard by a judge Friday during a hearing for Sandusky, 68, who’s on house arrest awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused 10 boys over a 15-year period.
Senior Judge John Cleland also heard arguments over the prosecution’s request to bring in out-of-county jurors, known legally as a change of venire. Cleland is expected to rule early next week on the requests. The judge did set a trial date for May 14.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Centre Daily Times
Friday’s hearing began with the prosecution’s request to confine Sandusky to his home except to seek medical care.
Authorities said several neighbors have complained about seeing Sandusky outside on the porch. One, concerned whether Sandusky was abiding by the rules of house arrest, videotaped Sandusky on his porch.
“I think it’s reasonable that neighbors are very concerned about Mr. Sandusky, and they raise those concerns and we’ve raised them on their behalf with the court,” said Senior Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo.
About 2 p.m. Friday, a reporter speaking with neighbor Lisa Harrington saw Sandusky on his back porch.
“I just got a sick feeling in my stomach when he came out,” Harrington said.
Prosecutor Jonelle Eshbach said it’s “a privilege” for Sandusky to be on house arrest given the nature of the allegations. She previously said he should be in jail and that house arrest is not “a house party.”
“It’s the commonwealth’s assertion that this home was not safe for children for 15 years and it’s not safe for children now,” Eshbach said.
Amendola argued that Sandusky should be able to have supervised visits with his grandchildren. Sandusky is also seeking limited visits with friends and to be allowed to leave his home, when needed, with his legal defense team.
Amendola said those trips would occur very rarely, and that he could submit an application to the court to get approval first.
Thomas Young, director of Centre County’s probation office, said someone’s residence generally includes their porch and that if Sandusky
Sandusky speaks to crowd of media after hearing,A3
weren’t allowed on his porch, it would be more restrictive than usual.
After the hearing, Sandusky took to the steps of the Centre County Courthouse to defend himself in light of the complaints. With his wife, Dottie, beside him, he spoke for about three minutes but took no questions.
“And when (my wife) comes home from visiting with grandchildren and tells me that one of them said that, the only thing that I want from my birthday is to be able to see Pop, I’m sensitive to that,” Sandusky said. “That’s why I came today.”
Sandusky then singled out the neighbors who told authorities they saw him on his porch, even watching the kids on the playground.
He said they are the same people who have been in his home or whose kids used to sled in his yard.
“It’s difficult for me to understand, to be honest,” he said.
Change of venire
After the bail modification arguments, Sandusky took the stand Friday and told the judge he wants a Centre County jury. His brief testimony came after Amendola argued against the prosecution’s request for out-of-county jurors to hear the case.
Sandusky’s assurance to Cleland means that he can’t appeal a conviction by blaming a biased jury or his attorney’s advice, the judge said.
“I don’t believe that would matter, relative to any place in this state,” Sandusky said.
The judge said he’d like the trial to start around May 14. Amendola said he might ask for a delay, but prosecutors said they don’t want to wait long to try the case.
Sandusky appeared relaxed in court, at times smiling and laughing.
He chuckled when the judge asked if he was taking any medication that might influence his answers, to which he said they wouldn’t.
Amendola told the media that that demeanor is Sandusky’s personality.
“That’s just Jerry,” said the attorney, who has previously said Sandusky isn’t articulate and didn’t make many public appearances.
The hearing lasted about an hour and a half and was the latest chapter in a court case that continues to draw national attention. Amendola and prosecutors fielded questions for about a half-hour afterward.
It wasn’t anything like the scene of Sandusky’s preliminary hearing in December — where streets around the courthouse were closed — but reporters still made up most of the crowd in and outside the courtroom.
Prosecutor Joseph McGettigan argued for the out-of-county jury for the same two reasons he outlined in his motion: The intense publicity and the deep connection Centre Countians have with Penn State could make for an unfair trial.
In his oral arguments, McGettigan cited Sandusky’s “highly visible role” in the community as a factor that could influence potential jurors.
McGettigan referenced Sandusky’s position as a former defensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions and as the founder of The Second Mile, the organization that prosecutors said is how Sandusky met the children he’s alleged to have abused.
“He highly came exposed into this case because of the university and The Second Mile,” McGettigan said.
“The penetration of two significant elements of this case into the community is pretty broad and pretty significant.”
McGettigan told the judge the public’s response to the fallout from the Sandusky case shows how deep that connection runs. He pointed to how the public reacted to the firing of former head football coach Joe Paterno by blaming the
university’s board of trustees.
He also posed a scenario that could put Sandusky in a position to not have a fair trial: if an alleged victim testifies at trial and a juror ends up knowing him. (The names of the alleged victims haven’t been released, and the Centre Daily Times does not publish names of alleged victims of sex-related offenses.)
But Amendola challenged the prosecution’s rationale. He told the judge the best-qualified people to hear the case are from Centre County.
“We could go anywhere in the country where someone has a connection to Penn State,” Amendola said.
“Let’s give it a try — Centre County deserves the first right to have the jury selected from this area to hear the Jerry Sandusky case.”
Amendola, who has tried high-profile cases involving former Penn State football players, said he has never had trouble seating a jury here. He also dispelled notions of how the fallout has affected Penn State.
“Penn State is not on trial, the football team is not on trial, The Second Mile is not on trial. Jerry Sandusky is on trial,” Amendola said.
Shortly before a trial, attorneys for both sides will vet potential jurors during a process called voir dire, looking for potential conflicts or biases that would prevent them from serving.
Amendola said the early trial date might not be realistic for the defense, which has requested thousands of pieces of evidence from the prosecution, including unredacted police investigative reports, psychiatric evaluations of the accusers, photos, and even an interview with Paterno.
The judge indicated the evidence release, along with a request for information about the accusers and commonwealth witnesses and an early release of grand jury testimony, will be worked out among the attorneys.
CDT reporter Matt Carroll contributed to this story.