Will Centre County Locals Doom Sandusky?

Today, the final jurors were picked for the Jerry Sandusky sexual misconduct trial. The 12 jurors and four alternates were decided today and yesterday for the trial that’s set to begin on Monday, June 11.

More than 600 jury duty summonses were sent out to residents in Centre County, where Penn State University is located. The judge said before jury selection that people with Penn State connections would not automatically disqualify potential jurors, just as they could pledge to be impartial. So it came as no surprise that many of the jurors have Penn State ties.

According to reports from various media outlets, at least four of the first nine jurors selected had some kind of direct Penn State connection and all four of the jurors selected today said they had ties to the school. One is a full professor at Penn State. Another is an administrative assistant and a dance teacher at the continuing education program at the school.

The jury also includes a Penn State senior, a man with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school and a woman who has been a football season ticket holder since the 1970s. One of the alternate jurors selected is a woman in her 30s who graduated from Penn State in 2007 with a degree in human development. There are also a handful of people who claim to have no ties to Penn State or Sandusky.

For a detailed breakdown of all the jurors, here’s a great place.

My initial gut reaction told me that I don’t trust Centre County residents to have the ability to be completely impartial in this case. I believed that anyone who lives or works in Centre County probably has a strong, negative opinion regarding Jerry Sandusky.  I thought a jury made up of locals would help the prosecution in the end. It even seemed reasonable to think that any one of these jurors could have lied about being impartial for the chance to lock up Sandusky for life.

After all, Penn State is the life-blood and driving force behind the population in Centre County. Anything that negatively affects Penn State negatively affects Centre County. Penn State has a bigger alumni association than any other school and many of them reside in that region. And even if you live there and don’t have a direct connection with the university, odds are good you are a fan of the football program and its late coach Joe Paterno.

Paterno, one of the most prominent and respected people in the history of Penn State, was fired because of the Sandusky allegations. He died of cancer shortly after and some believe it was because he lost the will to fight his disease with football no longer in his life. If you’re old enough to be a juror for this trial, you’re old enough to know how much Joe Paterno meant to the university and the surrounding area. Even if you agreed with Paterno’s firing, it’s difficult to ignore that Sandusky was the root of it.

BUT…

Just because Centre County has such a huge contingent of Penn State and Joe Paterno fans doesn’t mean people there can’t be impartial. The defense wanted to keep the jury limited to locals for a reason. It wanted Centre County residents because they would have a better understanding of the case and because Centre County has a greater population of well-educated individuals than other rural, central Pennsylvania regions. The defense decided it would benefit Sandusky more to have more educated people with Penn State pride than less educated ones without it.

That strategy may pay off for Sandusky.

Even if there are people on the jury who lied about their impartiality, could it be possible that all of them did? Maybe, but it’s unlikely.

The fact is, it takes only one person to hang a jury. If Sandusky’s defense can convince just one person on that panel that he’s innocent, he might have a chance. But can Sandusky’s defense convince every juror he’s innocent on all 52 counts?

I highly doubt it, even if there is a lack of physical evidence.

The odds are stacked against Sandusky that he’ll get off scot-free. But if by some unlikely turn of events he comes out of this trial as a free man, move over Lou Gehrig. Sandusky will be latest ‘luckiest man of the face of the earth.’

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About Pete Dombrosky
Pete is a graduate of Penn State University and a life-long Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan. He covered men's hockey, golf, tennis, swimming and the enterprise beat as a reporter at the Daily Collegian, Penn State's award-winning, independent student-operated paper. He currently serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for Thrillist Media Group (www.thrillist.com).

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