BELLEFONTE, Pa. — The fast-moving jury selection for former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse trial could wrap up quickly as lawyers try to fill the seven remaining slots on the panel.
Twelve jurors and four alternates are needed, and nine were selected Tuesday.
Twelve of the 40 potential jurors questioned Wednesday morning were excused, mostly because they said serving on a multi-week trial would be a financial hardship. Defense attorneys told the panel their witness list includes seven members of Sandusky’s family, including his wife, Dottie, and two sons.
Before jury selection resumed, defense lawyer Joe Amendola told reporters he was confident the nine jurors picked on Tuesday will give “us a fair shake.” Lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan, Pennsylvania’s senior deputy attorney general, said that jury selection was “so far, so good.”
The five men and four women already selected include some people with strong ties to Penn State.
They include a rising senior at the college, a retired soil sciences professor with 37 years at the university, a man with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school and a woman who’s been a football season ticket holder since the 1970s.
Others selected included a 24-year-old man with plans to attend an auto technician school, a mother of two who works in retail, a retired school bus driver, an engineer with no Penn State ties and a property management firm employee.
Sandusky, 68, is fighting 52 criminal charges for alleged abuse of 10 boys over 15 years. He has repeatedly denied the allegations. He faces potential penalties that could result in an effective life prison sentence.
More than 600 jury duty summonses were sent out to residents in Centre County, the home of Penn State University’s main campus.
In questioning 40 prospective jurors Tuesday, about half said they or immediate family members worked at Penn State or were university retirees. One woman rented apartments to college students. Four knew Sandusky and two knew his wife.
Sandusky’s lawyer won the right to have jurors chosen from the local community, and prosecutors had concerns that Centre County might prove to be nearly synonymous with Penn State.
Sandusky had helped build the football team’s reputation as a defensive powerhouse known as “Linebacker U.” His arrest toppled Joe Paterno from the head coaching position just months before his death from cancer, and some of the alleged attacks on children are said to have occurred inside university showers.
One of the very first jurors to be seated wasn’t just a season ticketholder since the 1970s: She said John McQueary — a possible trial witness and the father of a key witness — once worked with her husband.
When Sandusky’s lawyer sought to have her removed for cause, Cleland signaled he would need more grounds.
“We’re in Centre County. We’re in rural Pennsylvania,” Cleland said, noting that such connections “can’t be avoided.”
Amendola opted not to use one of his eight challenges, and she joined the panel. Amendola did strike parents with children who are roughly junior high school age, similar to the ages for the alleged victims.
All the jurors will have to say under oath they can be impartial.
Prosecutors have claimed that Sandusky groomed boys he met through The Second Mile, the charity he founded for at-risk youth in 1977, then attacked them, in some cases in his own home or inside university athletic facilities.