Sometimes it’s best to go outside the family.
Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator now facing charges of child sex abuse, filed court papers through his defense attorney on Feb. 8, arguing that jurors for his case should be chosen from the State College, Pa., area. This move comes off the prosecutors asking for out-of-county jurors the previous week, saying in the motion that people who live near Penn State would not be able to “insulate themselves” from the school.
The prosecution has it right, but Judge Jon Cleland got it wrong. Cleland granted Sandusky’s request for State College jurors.
The overall news saturation of this case will make it hard for just about anyone to be impartial, but for someone from State College, being impartial to a case involving Penn State is nearly impossible to begin with.
For those who do not know, the public perception of State College is a small town that rotates around Penn State like it’s the sun. People joke here in Waco in terms of Baylor’s importance, but for a small town like State College, Penn State is the town.
When news was first breaking of these allegations against Sandusky, people rose up in protest over the firing of long time Penn State head coach Joe Paterno before publicly recognizing the sex abuse victims. And now Sandusky’s defense attorney wants to pick a jury pool from this town.
There are two ways that could play out. One scenario is those jurors feel they cannot rule against a figure attached to Penn State, even if it is a publicly disgraced figure, without facing community backlash or alienation.
The other scenario is jurors blaming Sandusky for causing the death of Paterno by creating the scenario that got him fired and putting stress on the 85-year-old already in bad health. This scenario would be unfair to Sandusky.
In either scenario, jurors will be in an extremely difficult position emotionally, consciously and socially.
Sandusky’s defense attorney, Joe Amendola, does not even argue that it would be easier for a member of the State College community; he simply said the court will face the same difficulties picking juries from outside Centre County as picking from within.
The prosecution said people who live near Penn State would face a “Gordian knot of conscious and even subconscious conflicts and difficulties.”
Most likely there are quite a few people in the State College area who do not care that much about Penn State, but this scandal struck the entire community. Even with indifference to football, a member of the community will find more difficulty with impartiality than someone from a different county in Pennsylvania.
“If, after a reasonable attempt it is apparent that a jury cannot be selected within a reasonable time, then I will reconsider this ruling,” Cleland wrote in his decision.
We wish Cleland good luck. He’ll need it.