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Pa. judge to weigh use of out-of-county jury for Sandusky trial, proposals to modify his bail
BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) ' State prosecutors don't want the people who live near former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in central Pennsylvania to sit as jurors in his pending child sex-abuse trial. On Friday, they will try to persuade a judge to fill the jury box with people from outside the State College area instead.
The proceeding before Judge John M. Cleland is also expected to address Sandusky's request to have his house-arrest bail conditions modified so that he can have contact with his grandchildren and others.
The state attorney general's office has asked for tougher bail rules, arguing that safety concerns among Sandusky's neighbors warrant restricting him indoors.
Cleland has asked defense and prosecution lawyers to narrow the disputes on which he will have to rule, a list that includes whether Sandusky should be given transcripts of secret grand jury testimony before trial, and which other records prosecutors must turn over.
Sandusky faces 52 criminal counts for alleged sexual misconduct involving boys over 15 years, actions that police and prosecutors say have included violent sexual assault inside the Penn State football team facilities. He has denied the allegations.
Prosecutors have said the special position Penn State holds for people in Centre County would make it a challenge for jurors there to render a fair verdict, but Harrisburg attorney Barb Zemlock, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the same issue would apply throughout the state.
"The commonwealth of Pennsylvania is replete with individuals who have graduated from Penn State," Zemlock said. "And if you are going to say nobody who graduated from Penn State can be fair and impartial, then you are really going to slice your jury pool considerably."
Sandusky, 68, wants a Centre County jury, and neither the defense nor prosecutors have sought to move the proceedings to another county.
Both sides want to change the rules of Sandusky's house arrest. He is seeking permission to allow his 11 grandchildren to visit his home, accompanied by a parent, as well as to be allowed to communicate with them by phone or computer.
The attorney general's office, on the other hand, has asked Cleland to restrict Sandusky indoors. In a court filing on Tuesday, prosecutors said Sandusky had been seen on his back porch watching children play in an adjacent schoolyard, and concerns have been raised for the children's safety.
"Such concerns will only mushroom if defendant is permitted to roam at will outside his house," they said.
In response, Sandusky attorney Joe Amendola said safety concerns were unfounded, and that Sandusky has complied with bail rules in the months since his arrest.
Given Sandusky's age and the nature and number of charges against him, a conviction could be tantamount to a life sentence, so it is possible the time he is spending on house arrest may be his last months as a free man.
Sandusky is requesting pretrial release of grand jury transcripts, something Zemlock said courts have been known to grant, but she said it would be unusual for the defense to obtain them months before trial. No trial date has been set.
"The last thing the court needs to do is build an appellate issue, and if I don't have time to properly prepare for my cross-examination, my client is being denied the effective representation of counsel," Zemlock said.
Amendola said this week that he wasn't sure if Cleland or the jurist who supervised the investigative grand jury, Judge Barry Feudale, would decide whether to release the transcripts.
"A determination of the motion for the production of copies of transcripts of testimony of individuals who appeared before the grand jury may be delayed, depending upon whether Judge Cleland or Judge Feudale decides that issue," Amendola said.
Cleland said prosecutors did not have to file a written answer to Amendola's detailed motion seeking other records. The judge's order scheduled the motion for "argument and/or hearing" on Friday but asked the sides to "narrow the issues in dispute and reach agreement, if possible."
Zemlock said additional pretrial motions might still be filed on a range of possible topics, including any alibi defense, a claim that so much time has passed that the statute of limitations requires dismissal, or efforts to prevent one side or the other from presenting certain evidence.
Judges have leeway when it comes to setting a timeline for those types of motions, Zemlock said.
Pennsylvania's speedy trial rules give the state a year from the filing of the complaint to bring a defendant to trial, unless he or she is in jail, then the limit is six months.
Sandusky was arrested on two sets of charges, filed against him in November and December. Zemlock said trial in late summer or early fall would be a good guess, but that may depend on Centre County's court timetable and Cleland's schedule.
The scandal led the Penn State trustees to push out university president Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno, who died last month.
Two Penn State administrators are awaiting trial on charges they lied to a grand jury investigating Sandusky and failed to properly report suspected child abuse. Gary Schultz, a former vice president, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, have both denied the allegations.