After the media blitz that followed Sandusky's arrest on sexual abuse charges last fall, it would be hard to find a jury anywhere in America that didn't have at least some passing acquaintance with the case. (Sandusky, a long-time assistant under late head coach Joe Paterno, is facing more than 40 felony counts of deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and indecent assault against at least ten adolescent victims over more than a decade.) In Centre County, though, it's proven virtually impossible to find a dozen people who don't have at least some passing acquaintance with someone actually involved in the case. Of the nine jurors selected Tuesday from the group of 220 residents who responded to a summons for jury duty, four have a direct connection to Penn State, and three have a direct connection to potential witnesses.
Juror 2 is the son of a former Penn State employee who worked for 30 years in the office of the university's physical plant. Juror 3 is the wife of a physician who once worked with John McQueary, father of Mike McQueary, the former Penn State quarterback turned assistant coach who says he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in a locker room shower in 2002 and subsequently reported the incident to both his father and then-head coach Joe Paterno. (Both John and Mike McQueary are expected to testify in the trial.) Juror 3 is also a season-ticket holder for Penn State football games. Juror 8 is a retired Penn State professor who worked for the university for 37 years.
Juror 7 is a current Penn State student who works part-time in the athletic department – he arrived in court wearing a Penn State Archery t-shirt – and whose cousin is a former Nittany Lion football player. Juror 7 played high school football himself for a coach who once hired Sandusky as a volunteer assistant; the same coach, as assistant principal of the same school, later helped initiate the investigation that led to Sandusky's arrest by alerting police to a complaint by a student. (Defense attorney Joe Amendola attempted to strike Juror 7 based on his relationship with the coach, but was overruled.)
So far, today's proceedings have produced Juror 10, who works as an administrative assistant in the Penn State administrative department; Juror 11, a dance instructor in Penn State's Continuing Education program for adults; Juror 12, a Penn State professor who worked on a committee for six years with former university president Graham Spanier (who was forced to resign over the scandal) and current president Rocky Erickson; Juror 13, an alternate, who graduated from Penn State in 2007; and Juror 15, another alternate, who is also another Penn State graduate. Juror 12 recalled that at her graduation, Sandusky gave the commencement speech.
Hypothetically, the local flavor is considered a strategic asset for the defense, which successfully defeated the prosecution's bid for a change of venue. Sandusky has been front-and-center in the community since the 1970s, both as the architect of championship defenses and a public face for the children's charity he helped found, The Second Mile. He was depicted for years alongside other venerated community leaders in a mural in downtown State College titled "Inspiration." Various factions of Penn State students, fans and alumni reacted harshly against media coverage of the scandal, and especially against the university's decision to fire Paterno as a result. The defense – which plans to argue that accusations against Sandusky have been exaggerated or invented, and can't be backed up by evidence – is banking on a community that feels besieged and may be inclined to feel a degree of sympathy for one of its own.
On the other hand, since last winter The Second Mile has been shuttered, Sandusky has been painted out of the mural and Paterno has died. Prosecutors are equally optimistic that members of a wounded community will have no trouble condemning the man they hold most responsible for the trauma. Either way, arguments are expected to begin in earnest next week, and it is not going to be a quaint scene.