Of the 12 jurors and 4 alternates selected to hear the sexual abuse trial of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, fully half have some connection to the university where some of the alleged crimes took place. The selected panel include three alums, one retired professor, a current professor, two employees, and a current Penn State student. Most of the others also live or work in and around the town of State College, where Nittany Lion football dominates the landscape.
At least two of the jurors are also indirectly connected to participants in the case. One woman is married to a co-worker of John McQueary, who is the father of key prosecution witness, Mike McQueary. The younger McQueary is expected to testify that he saw Sandusky having sex with a young boy in a Penn State locker room.
Normally, people with such close ties to the case would be disqualified from taking part in such a trial, but since this is being held in the heart of Central Pennsylvania it would be nearly impossible to find 12 people who aren't connected to the university in some way. The jury pool drew from the 150,000 people who live in Centre County (where State College is located), but even expanding to the rest of the state would have made it a challenge. Penn State is the hub that the region revolves around, employing thousands of people, turning out tens of thousands of graduates, and fielding what is essentially the area's only major sports team. Unless they moved the trial to a whole other state, the conflicts would have been unavoidable.
The closeness of the community and the college's central role in it also makes it odd that the judge has decided not to sequester the jury during what is expected to be a lengthy trial. Jurors will be given instructions to avoid most media that might discuss the case, but they will be permitted to go home every night and see family and friends. Cost may have been one consideration as it probably would have set the state back a few hundred thousands dollars to house and feed the jury for at least three weeks. Still, the judge has still chosen to put a lot of faith in the jury members to avoid discussing the case outside the courthouse — and a lot of faith in the community (and the media) to leave them alone.
Opening arguments in the case will begin on Monday.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.