Jerry Sandusky trial postponed until June; jury may be sequestered

Thursday , March 29, 2012 - 5:37 PM

Mike Dawson

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Jerry Sandusky's trial on child abuse charges has been delayed until early June, and it appears the jury may be sequestered for the duration of the trial.

Jury selection will begin June 5, a Tuesday. The trial is to begin immediately after, Centre County Court Administrator Maxine Ishler said Thursday.

Previously, jury selection was scheduled for May 14 with the trial to follow.

Senior Judge John Cleland ruled Thursday that the trial date will be postponed "to accommodate various logistical contingencies that have arisen." He didn't elaborate.

Also Thursday, the prosecution responded to the defense's motions asking the court to dismiss the case, or, if the case continues, to sequester the jury and suppress certain evidence. The defense's motions were in a pre-trial court filing last week.

A hearing for arguments on those questions has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday in the Centre County Courthouse. Sandusky, 68, is expected to attend.

In the filing Thursday, prosecutor Frank Fina agreed with the defense that the jury should be sequestered during the trial. The judge still will have to rule on the matter.

If Cleland does opt for a sequestered jury, the county will pay for jurors to stay in hotels, along with their meals and transportation costs to and from the courthouse.

Arguing for sequestering the jury last week, Sandusky's attorney, Joe Amendola, said he expected daily media publicity during the trial that would make it impossible for the jurors to avoid hearing or reading about the case.

The prosecution also supported another defense request: that each potential juror be questioned individually as to his or her ability to be impartial while hearing the case. That process, called voir dire, is typically done in groups of 30 in Centre County during jury selection.

The individual voir dire is likely to lengthen the jury selection process.

The jury will be composed of Centre County residents, which is what Sandusky had argued for, contrary to the prosecution's motion to bring in an out-of-county jury.

Where the prosecution and defense didn't agree in the recent filings was whether the case should go to trial. The defense had argued last week there isn't enough specificity as to the time and date of when the alleged abuses occurred, which made preparing for trial difficult, if not impossible.

Fina fired back at the defense's claims, arguing the state's Superior Court gives prosecutors "broad latitude when attempting to fix the date of offenses which involve a continuous course of criminal conduct," especially cases involving alleged sexual offenses against children.

Sandusky "cannot exploit the appalling breadth of his own criminal conduct by claiming it encompasses so long a period as to hamper his defense," Fina wrote.

Fina also argued that the defense could have tested the prosecution's evidence during a preliminary hearing in December, but they waived that right and don't have the standing now to test the evidence.

As for the defense's claim the statute of limitations had expired, Fina said state law makes exceptions to prosecute someone who allegedly committed "major sexual offenses" against a minor.

The prosecutor also wrote in the filing that the search warrant used to search Sandusky's house in June 2011 was obtained legally, as were the conversations recorded between Sandusky and two alleged victims.

Fina said Sandusky's statements about a showering incident in 1998 to then-Penn State police detective Ron Schreffler shouldn't be suppressed either. The defense argued Sandusky was not read his Miranda rights, but Fina said Sandusky wasn't in custody and police didn't have to advise him of the rights.

As for the hearing next week, it appears there will not be any disruption to traffic in the courthouse area.

Bellefonte Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said no downtown streets will be closed and that there won't be any parking changes.

A large contingent of media from outside Centre County is expected to attend the hearing.

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