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Joe Paterno's widow, son may testify in Sandusky case

Jerry Sandusky's attorney says Sue and Jay Paterno are among the witnesses the defense may call in the former Penn State football coach's child sexual abuse case.

June 06, 2012|By Peter Hall, Morning Call
  • Former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky arrives at court.
Former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky… (Gene J. Puskar, Associated…)

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Sue Paterno, the widow of late former Penn State University football Coach Joe Paterno, and one of their sons may be among the witnesses in Jerry Sandusky's child sexual abuse trial, potential jurors learned Tuesday.

The revelation came during the early stages of jury selection as prosecutors and attorneys for Sandusky, a longtime assistant on Joe Paterno's staff, named likely witnesses to ensure that potential jurors did not have conflicts.

Defense attorney Joe Amendola said Sue Paterno and son Jay, who was also an assistant coach on the Penn State staff, may be called by Sandusky's defense. Also on Sandusky's potential witness list isPulitzer Prize-winningHarrisburg Patriot-News reporter Sara Ganim, who is credited with breaking the news that Sandusky was the subject of a state grand jury investigation last year.

Lead prosecutor Joseph E. McGettigan III named as witnesses former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, a number of Sandusky's accusers and officials in a Clinton County school district, where the sexual abuse investigation began.

In the first day of jury selection, prosecutors and Sandusky's lawyers agreed on nine out of 16 jurors and alternates.

But the process illustrated challenges in selecting a fair jury for Sandusky's trial on 52 counts of child sexual abuse in rural Centre County, where media coverage of the case has saturated the community and many in the jury pool have ties to Sandusky and Penn State.

The seventh juror chosen is a senior at Penn State who has ties to the football team and knows the football coach at Central Mountain High School in Clinton County. The coach was among educators who testified before the grand jury that recommended charges against Sandusky.

Amendola asked Judge John M. Cleland to dismiss the juror, but the judge refused when the man said he could put his opinions aside and be fair.

Juror No. 3 is a middle-aged woman whose husband works in the same medical practice as McQueary's father. The younger McQueary testified before the grand jury that he saw Sandusky raping a boy in a locker room shower in 2001.

Amendola asked the judge to dismiss the juror, but the judge said no.

"We're in Centre County. We're in rural Pennsylvania," Cleland said. "There are these [connections] that cannot be avoided."

Amendola appeared to be ready to use a peremptory challenge to dismiss the juror without giving a reason, but his client stopped him.

"I think she would be fair," Sandusky said.

Among the 26 jurors dismissed Tuesday were a retired economics professor who taught McQueary and knew former Penn State University President Graham Spanier, an elderly man who had been a foster child, a man who knew Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, from church, a woman who said she had been watching news about the case, and a man who is a Penn State alumni relations employee.

The inclusion of Sue and Jay Paterno on the defense witness list is a puzzle because it is not immediately clear what they could contribute to Sandusky's case, said John Waldron, a criminal defense lawyer who has been tracking the case.

Often, close friends and associates are called as character witnesses to testify that alleged misconduct would be an aberration for a defendant. But the Sandusky charges sparked a scandal that led the Penn State Board of Trustees to fire Joe Paterno three games shy of completing his final regular season as head coach. Paterno died two months later of cancer.

"To me, Jay or Sue Paterno would be hostile witnesses and dangerous to put on the stand," Waldron said.

The judge told the pool of 240 potential jurors that they would not be sequestered during the two- to three-week trial. Cleland said he trusted them to avoid accounts of the trial in newspapers, TV and on Facebook.

"The only people who know the complete story are the ones in that jury box," he said.

Earlier this year, prosecutors asked Cleland to bus in jurors from outside Centre County, where Sandusky's ties to Penn State and his well-known charity for disadvantaged children, the Second Mile, could make it difficult to select an impartial jury.

Sandusky opposed the request. His attorney said he was confident the people of Sandusky's longtime home community could set aside any preconceived ideas and judge the former coach fairly.

Because of a lack of space in the courtroom, reporters were required to take turns and share their notes with others.

The jury pool was described as middle-aged to elderly and mostly white. Four potential jurors wore Penn State clothing, including a younger woman in a "white out" shirt similar to one that Penn State football fans wore in solidarity with Joe Paterno after he was fired.

Sandusky, 68, retired at the end of the 1999 football season after a decades-long career at Penn State, including more than 20 years as defensive coordinator. He also founded the Second Mile, where prosecutors allege he met most of his victims. He was arrested in November and has been confined to his home under $250,000 bail since December.

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