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Cleland: No Justification for Tightening Sandusky's Bail Conditions

on February 13, 2012 1:13 PM

General concerns about Jerry Sandusky's presence near Lemont Elementary School are understandable, but they "cannot justify" a tightening of his bail conditions, Senior Judge John M. Cleland ruled Monday.

In a series of decisions, Cleland threw out a prosecution request that Sandusky stay indoors and off his deck while he is under house arrest. His home is about 30 feet from the elementary-school property.

The judge also denied a prosecution request for a non-Centre County jury in Sandusky's expected trial, tentatively set for May.

Further, granting a defense motion, Cleland ordered that Sandusky will be allowed to have visits with at least eight of his 11 grandchildren while he remains under house arrest. (A decision on the other three grandchildren, who are involved in litigation over a divorce, will be left to the judge handling a custody case.)

Sandusky will be allowed to visit in his home, as well, with as many as 12 friends -- in addition to immediate family members, Cleland decided. Such visits will be left to the discretion of the county probation coordinator, Thomas Young, and may not run more than two hours or be scheduled more than thrice weekly.

Likewise, Sandusky may travel on occasion with his defense team for limited purposes as it builds a legal case for him -- provided that he has the permission of the probation department, Cleland wrote.

His rulings came on the heels of a roughly hour-long hearing on the matters Friday. Sandusky, charged with 52 criminal counts in a child-sexual-abuse case, has maintained that he is innocent. Released on bail in December, the former Penn State football coach remains under house arrest as a condition of his release.

On the overarching question of reasonable privileges during house arrest, Cleland cited Pennsylvania criminal procedure. It holds that no condition of release "should ever be imposed for the sole purpose of ensuring that defendant remains incarcerated until trial."

And so, Cleland went on, rebuffing a prosecution argument, it is "not a helpful analogy to compare the defendant's situation at home with what it would be if he were incarcerated. The conditions of bail must always be analyzed bearing in mind he presumption of innocence and the purposes of bail."

The grandchildren question

Cleland noted that parents of all 11 Sandusky grandchildren -- with the exception of one -- have asked that electronic and in-person communication be allowed. They also have pledged to be present during any such contact.

Cleland wrote that he will require that parental presence during any visits or other communication.

State prosecutors have "presented no evidence that the parents of the defendant's grandchildren are not capable of assuring the safety of their children," Cleland wrote.

Access for friends; 'good-faith' concerns

On in-home visits from friends, Cleland decided that Sandusky, of College Township, may submit a list of as many as 12 people -- in addition to immediate relatives, religious advisers and medical personnel -- as potential visitors to his home. It'll be up to Young, the probation coordinator for Centre County, to decide which among those people will be authorized for visits.

Young may also limit the number of people who can visit at any one time.

On another key point, prosecutors had sought to toughen Sandusky's house arrest and prevent him from appearing on his porch. There, they said, his presence stirs alarm among some in the neighborhood -- including at neighboring Lemont Elementary.

Those concerns are rooted "undoubtedly (in) good faith," Cleland wrote. But prosecutors failed "to present any evidence whatsoever that (Sandusky) presents a clearly defined threat to any student at the adjoining elementary school simply by being on his deck," he went on.

"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. He denied the prosecution request.

Building a fair jury

With regard to the prosecution request for an out-of-county jury, Cleland cited a Pennsylvania precedent. It indicates that a fair jury need not be "free from all knowledge of facts and circumstances surrounding the incident ... ."

"(T)he critical question is whether or not they are capable of casting aside any impressions or opinions that may have formed and rendering a verdict based solely upon the evidence presented to them during the course of the trial," it goes on.

Cleland suggested that whether a juror can be impartial "cannot be known until the juror is actually asked." And "the presumption should be in favor of at least making an effort to select a fair and impartial jury in the county where the defendant has been charged."

On other matters argued Friday, Cleland ruled Monday that any early release of grand-jury testimony in the case, sought by the defense, must be decided by the judge supervising the grand jury.

Cleland also ruled that the prosecution must supply the defense with several specifics, including the time, date and location of any alleged offense that gave rise to the criminal counts. If the prosecution is unable to provide said details, Cleland added, it must provide an explanation.

At the same time, he upheld a prosecution refusal to provide the defense with certain details, including the names, addresses and ages of all witnesses to any alleged offenses.

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