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Court Looking at Possible Trial of Two or Three Weeks for Sandusky

on March 07, 2012 9:16 AM

The Jerry Sandusky criminal trial, tentatively set for mid-May, could last two or three weeks.

At least, that's a "guesstimate" used by court and local leaders as they map out logistics for the proceedings at the Centre County Courthouse, court and county representatives said this week.

The trial plans, at least for now, call for closing no streets in downtown Bellefonte. Nor is the courthouse itself expected to close to regular business, said county administrator Tim Boyde.

"The courthouse has to remain open," Boyde. "It has to be functional. Life isn't going to stop just because of the Sandusky trial."

Likewise, he said: "You can't shut the heart of downtown Bellefonte for three weeks -- or however long the trial lasts. It's not practical."

When Sandusky, 68, of College Township, appeared in Bellefonte for a planned preliminary hearing in December, officials cut off some normal vehicular access around the courthouse. It was the first time they dealt with such a dramatic media onslaught -- 29 television trucks showed up -- and they weren't sure what to expect, said Jim Koval, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

In retrospect, he said Tuesday, closing streets probably was not necessary that day.

By February, when Sandusky returned to court for a motions hearing, local leaders decided to keep street access open and reshuffle some media parking. They redirected a number of the TV satellite trucks to a county-owned parking lot behind the courthouse, helping to remove many from the streets.

A similar approach is expected again for the trial itself, Koval said. His office has been working with county and municipal officials to help develop practical arrangements for the trial.

Koval said one traffic lane on Allegheny Street -- in front of the courthouse -- may be closed to accommodate some satellite trucks during the trial. That decision would rest ultimately with Bellefonte police Chief Shawn Weaver; he could not be reached immediately on Tuesday.

Among other trial provisions now in the works:

  • A committee of media representatives -- mainly from national broadcasters -- and local officials is crafting some logistical arrangements, primarily for news coverage. National television organizations are collaborating to streamline video feeds and related material, which should ease congestion and confusion outside the courthouse. Broadcasters have suggested designating a specific area for all media interviews -- to help prevent news crews from chasing parties outside the courthouse. "That will help us a lot," Boyde said.
  • An auxiliary courtroom may again be established in an adjacent annex building, as it was for Sandusky's court appearance in December. At that event, some 200 reporters and 100 media technicians descended on Bellefonte. Many could not fit into the main courtroom -- Courtroom No. 1 in the courthouse -- and were redirected to the annex space. There, a closed-circuit feed from Courtroom No. 1 was available. Expenses for that provision would fall to the county, Koval said.

Planning for the trial has involved a range of agencies. Bellefonte borough police, for instance, will take the lead in handling vehicular traffic; the county Sheriff's Office, courthouse security; and the county courts and government, other special provisions such as an auxiliary courtroom. Plus, the state broadcasters' and newspaper associations have provided assistance for media credentialing.

Overall cost estimates were not immediately available earlier this week, though Boyde said the county -- including the sheriff's department -- is "not looking at adding a bunch of staff." He said the sheriff, Denny Nau, does not expect a lot of overtime expenses -- just a redirection of resources during the trial period.

Having worked through earlier Sandusky court proceedings, Boyde said, "everyone's feeling a lot more comfortable from the standpoint of knowing what to do."

Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach and The Second Mile's founder, is charged with 52 criminal counts in a child-sexual-abuse case. He has maintained that he is innocent. Jury selection for his expected trial is scheduled for May 14.

The next proceeding in his case is set for Monday in Bellefonte. At that point, his lead attorney, Joseph Amendola, will argue state prosecutors should give the defense, in a pre-trial discovery phase, more details of their investigation into Sandusky.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether Sandusky himself will appear for the Monday hearing.

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