Jerry Sandusky’s attorney appears to have scored two victories for the former defensive coordinator.
A judge ruled Monday that Sandusky can have supervised visits with his grandchildren. The judge also denied the prosecution’s request to bring in an out-of-county jury to hear the case, a request Sandusky and his attorney, Joe Amendola, opposed.
Senior Judge John M. Cleland indicated in his rulings that prosecutors failed to provide enough evidence to support their arguments. He said they didn’t show Sandusky was a danger to children at a local school to keep him on stricter bail conditions or that a potential jury pool from Centre County would be tainted by intense publicity and an emotional connection to Penn State.
But Cleland did acknowledge that jury selection may present some challenges, and “if, after a reasonable attempt, it is apparent that a jury cannot be selected within a reasonable time, then I will reconsider this ruling,” he wrote.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo said prosecutors were reviewing the judge’s orders and didn’t have any comments Monday.
Amendola said the Sanduskys are “very relieved by and pleased” with the ruling that Sandusky can have supervised visits with his grandchildren.
They also “believe a fair and impartial jury can be chosen from the citizens of Centre County,” Amendola said.
Sandusky, 68, is on house arrest awaiting trial on 52 charges of molesting 10 boys over 15 years. He’s maintained his innocence.
The trial start date has been set tentatively for May 14.
The bail modification request was made by Sandusky, who said his grandchildren wanted to see him. He asked for visitation and contact with them, such as over the phone or by Skype.
Sandusky also sought and received approval to have visits at his home with up to 12 close friends and to be able to leave his home with his defense team in preparation for trial. He has to give 36 hours notice before leaving with his counsel.
Prosecutors opposed the bail request and last week shot back asking for a tighter restrictions. They said neighbors were concerned Sandusky was seen on his back porch watching children playing outside Lemont Elementary School, which borders his property, so they wanted him to be confined to his home except to get medical care.
The matter was argued before Cleland on Friday.
In his ruling Monday, Cleland said prosecutors presented concerns but didn’t show him evidence that Sandusky was “a clearly defined threat” to the children while being on his back porch.
“No evidence was presented that at any time the defendant made any effort to contact any of the children by signaling or calling to them, or that he made any gestures directed toward them, or that he acted in any inappropriate way whatsoever,” Cleland wrote.
State College Area School District spokeswoman Julie Miller said the district continues to monitor the safety of students and district employees and is working to minimize disruptions. She said employees at the school have indicated they’re comfortable with the measures in place and haven’t experienced any disruptions during the school day.
The grandchildren visitation ruling has one exception. Cleland didn’t give Sandusky approval to have visits with three of his grandchildren involved in a custody case between his son, Matt, and Matt’s ex-wife, Jill Thomas. The judge in that custody case will decide that.
Thomas, who was scheduled to testify against the bail change on Friday, spoke out publicly for the first time on Monday, issuing a statement through her attorney, Kim Hamilton. She said she doesn’t want Sandusky around her children and referenced an allegation he “inappropriately touched” her son that was investigated by Centre County Children and Youth Services.
Both Thomas and Amendola said Monday that nothing came of that report. Thomas said not enough evidence of a criminal offense was found and there was nothing from CYS to indicate abuse had happened. Thomas said a psychologist recommended her son receive counseling.
Amendola said the report was “unfounded” and said Sandusky denied the allegation.
Hamilton was outraged over Cleland’s decision on Sandusky’s bail.
“Today’s decision appears to be just another example of the kind of special treatment that Jerry Sandusky has relied on for decades,” she said.
Amendola said Thomas was involving Sandusky in the custody battle. Hamilton denied it was an attempt by Thomas to get more custody of the children.
In the out-of-county jury matter, Cleland said it’s not possible to know if a potential Centre County juror can be fair until he or she is asked.
“The presumption should be in favor of at least making an effort to select a fair and impartial jury in the county where the (d)efendant has been charged,” Cleland wrote.
Jules Epstein, an associate law professor at Widener University and an expert in criminal law, said the judge was within his rights to deny the request. Prosecutors didn’t provide data, such as the results of a poll, to illustrate the connection residents have with Penn State.
“The judge took the standard conservative, cautious approach, which is to first see how jury selection goes,” he said. “There are no data that the (prosecutors) came up with that show that you can’t pick a fair jury in that county.”
Several local residents, like Claudia Hutchinson, approved of the judge’s decision.
“I think it is the community that has been most impacted, beside the (alleged) victims, and therefore the community should have the most say in what happens with the outcome,” said Hutchinson, who’s lived in State College for 30 years. Also Monday:
Cleland denied the defense’s request for an early release of grand jury testimony, saying that request needs to be directed to the grand jury judge.
But Cleland said he could see “potentially disruptive delays” in the prosecution’s case at trial if the testimony is only released after each witness testifies. Amendola sought the early release of the testimony citing similar concerns.
Cleland granted Amendola’s request for a bill of particulars, or specific information about the allegations. The judge ordered the prosecution to give Amendola the time, date and location of the offenses as well as the age of the alleged victims. If the prosecution doesn’t have that information, it has to provide an explanation why.
But, the judge said prosecutors don’t have to turn over names, addresses and ages of all witnesses to the offenses, saying that’s part of the pretrial discovery process and not under the scope of a request for a bill of particulars.
Cleland did not rule about the prosecution turning over thousands of pieces of evidence, including full police investigative reports and psychiatric evaluations, to the defense. He directed the prosecution to outline their objections to releasing the information next week.