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Safety Worries Cited as Sandusky Appears in Court; Judge's Rulings Expected in Short Order

on February 10, 2012 2:51 PM

Jerry Sandusky's presence on his back deck has indeed alarmed residents -- and it has disrupted after-school activities at neighboring Lemont Elementary School, too, a state investigator said Friday.

Appearing in Centre County Court, investigator Anthony Sasso relayed statements from an employee who works in after-school programs there. The employee said students, upon noticing Sandusky on his porch, run over to a window and look outside to watch him, Sasso testified.

Beyond those classroom disruptions, he said, the employee is concerned for the safety of the school children. At least two other people in the immediate area have voiced similar worries, Sasso said, citing in part a next-door neighbor of Sandusky's, Paul Kletchka.

Kletchka also is worried for Sandusky's own safety, given the hostility directed at the former Penn State football coach via the Centre Daily Times' online reader comments, Sasso testified.

His testimony was a key element Friday as state prosecutors tried to tighten Sandusky's bail restrictions, ban him from the porch and derail a defense request for relaxed house-arrest rules. The hearing, which included five minutes of testimony from Sandusky himself, also focused on whether an out-of-county jury should come in to handle the expected Sandusky trial.

The target date for that trial is May 14. Sandusky, accused of a prolonged pattern of child sexual abuse, was first charged in November.

Judge John Cleland, presiding in the case, did not render any immediate decisions on the motions argued Friday. But he did say he wants to issue rulings quickly. A deputy state attorney general said he expects to hear from Cleland as soon as early next week.

A question of access

On the house-arrest question, Joe Amendola, the lead attorney representing Sandusky, said his client wants to visit occasionally with his grandchildren and adult friends. Sandusky would be able to engage in such visitation had he been incarcerated in December instead of being released on bail under a house-arrest arrangement, Amendola argued.

He presented Cleland with written documentation supporting his push, including letters from Sandusky children and grandchildren.

But Jonelle Eshbach, a state prosecutor, said the Sandusky case is "categorically different from other cases." She cited the scope of the case -- 10 alleged sexual-abuse victims and 52 criminal charges -- and the time frame of the alleged offenses: more than a decade.

"It is the commonwealth's assertion that his home was not safe for children for 15 years, and it's not safe now," Eshbach said. She said Sandusky already enjoys privileges under house arrest as he awaits trial. Specifically, she cited his ability to sleep in his own bed, eat his own food and be in the company of his wife -- Dottie -- and dog.

In light of the alarm that Sandusky's very presence stirs in the community, prosecutors have said, Cleland should clamp down on the house-arrest rules. Sandusky should be allowed outside his house's walls only for medical trips -- and certainly not on local trips to help his legal team build a defense, as Amendola has suggested, prosecutors said Friday.

Eshbach said that Jill Thomas, a former daughter-in-law of Sandusky, has strenuously objected to the idea that her children -- three of Sandusky's grandchildren -- should have any contact with their paternal grandfather. In fact, Eshbach said, it's been suggested that those three grandchildren undergo psychological counseling as a result of their contact with Sandusky.

"The community had no say in whether Mr. Sandusky was placed among them" while he is on house arrest, Eshbach said. "And, clearly, they are discomforted."

Amendola fought back on that front, though, too. He argued that Sandusky has met all bail house-arrest rules set thus far. He suggested that Sandusky has gone onto his back porch -- a practice permitted under the current court order -- to take care of his dog.

In a brief appearance after the hearing, Sandusky said neighbors now shunning him had once enjoyed relationships with him, even visiting at the Sandusky family's College Township home. He has maintained that he is innocent. (For video of Sandusky's post-hearing remarks, go to this page.)

A local story

On the question of a jury, state prosecutor Joseph McGettigan said the potential jury pool in Centre County is in a unique spot. He estimated that one in three Centre Countians has a direct affiliation with Penn State. That doesn't count the thousands of others with indirect links to the university, he said.

On top of that, McGettigan said, The Second Mile nonprofit founded by Sandusky is a significant Centre County presence with a significant local impact.

Sandusky's high-profile connection to both organizations -- The Second Mile and Penn State -- bears unique challenges for local residents, McGettigan said, arguing for an out-of-county jury.

Sandusky is accused of committing sexual crimes against minors on university property. Sandusky met his alleged victims through The Second Mile, McGettigan noted.

He said prospective Centre County jurors would likely know where the alleged crimes are said to have happened. It's probable that they could know people with connections to The Second Mile -- or friends or relatives of the alleged victims, McGettigan argued.

"I just want to see a fair trial for all parties," including Sandusky, McGettigan said. He suspects biases that could surface in a Centre County jury may actually favor the prosecution, he said.

But the prosecution's central interest is justice, McGettigan went on.

Amendola countered that the media attention cited by the prosecution is a national -- not just a local -- phenomenon in the Sandusky matter. Plus, he said, Penn State and The Second Mile aren't on trial; "Jerry Sandusky is on trial."

"There is no better area, no place else we know, judge, in this state where people won't have heard about The Second Mile," Amendola said. " ... All I'm saying is, let's give it a try. Centre County deserves the first right to have a jury selected from this area to hear Jerry Sandusky's case."

Sandusky took the stand about five minutes to address the out-of-county-jury question. Answering Cleland's procedural questions with brief answers, he said he was not swayed by the prosecution's arguments.

At times, Sandusky smiled and chuckled lightly on the stand. He said he still thinks a Centre County jury would be fine. Practical circumstances facing a jury from anywhere in the state would be similar, he said.

Later, under additional questioning, Sandusky told Cleland that he is on medication. Asked if the medications affect his ability to think clearly or understand what's happening, Sandusky chuckled softly and said: "I don't believe that they do."

It wasn't clear exactly what medications Sandusky may be taking.

Cleland heard two other, less-time-consuming matters Friday. One involves a defense request for an early release of grand-jury testimony. The other involves prosecution-defense negotiations over the sharing of pre-trial discovery materials.

Cleland said he will move "very quickly" to render his decisions.

Earlier and related coverage is available through the page linked below.

Related coverage

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LIVE COVERAGE: Sandusky Hearing Adjourns in Bellefonte; Judge Announces May 14 as Target Trial Date
February 10, 2012 11:30 AM
LIVE COVERAGE: Sandusky Hearing Adjourns in Bellefonte; Judge Announces May 14 as Target Trial Date
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