Prosecutors working the upcoming child molestation trial of former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky have requested that out-of-county jurors be chosen to decide Sandusky’s fate, citing the enormous publicity surrounding the case.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Joseph McGettigan submitted his request in writing Jan. 31 at the Centre County Court of Common Pleas.
The change of venire motion, addressed to Judge John M. Cleland, who is presiding over the case, urges the jurist to pick from a non-local jury pool.
Various reasons are given for the request.
“Here, the complete saturation of the Centre County community by coverage of this matter and, indeed, the unique nature of that community itself, requires that the jury be selected from another county,” the request states.
The motion goes on to cite the ongoing and extensive media coverage as an example of why this case merits special attention.
McGettigan puts the case on par with the early 20th Century trials of industrialists Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie as for notoriety.
“There can be absolutely no doubt that the media coverage of this matter has been spectacular in its breadth and intensity,” the motion reads. “The unblinking eye of the press has been focused on a case which is without analogue or peer in the history of this Commonwealth.”
At the same time, McGettigan states in the motion that widespread publicity isn’t the only reason why he is seeking a change of venire.
“The Commonwealth respectfully submits that it is the combination of the pervasive publicity and the unique nature of the Penn State community which requires that change,” the motion reads. “The relationship of Penn State University to the community which surrounds and supports it is special. The life of the University and Centre County are inextricably intertwined; both philosophically and economically.”
The motion goes on to state that Centre County residents feel a “laudable and proper sense of ownership of, and participation in, the fortunes of Penn State. To ask members of that community to breakdown that alloy and insulate themselves from the institution which informs so many aspects of their lives is asking too much. It is unfair and impracticable.”
In the motion, McGettigan acknowledges that his office’s move is atypical since it’s defense attorneys who usually request such a special exception for out-of-county jurors.
“Here, the Commonwealth is impelled to request the change with an awareness of the peril for both sides if the jury is culled from the Centre County community,” the motion states.
The motion states that prosecutors need to consider how to best protect a potential guilty verdict should it end up in the appellate stages.
Through the motion, prosecutors stressed that they are in no way criticizing any member of the Penn State faculty should they have been called to serve on the jury.
“This Motion is made, however, in recognition of the irresistible truth that prospective jurors from Centre County would face a Gordian knot of conscious and even subconscious conflicts and difficulties which the most skillful voir dire could not identify and untangle,” the motion states.
While prosecutors are seeking out-of-county jurors, they stressed they are not seeking a change of venue.
“First, it is logistically impractical to hold the trial anywhere else,” the motion states. “Witnesses for both Defendant and the Commonwealth reside in Centre County; and proximity to the scenes involved will be important.”
Secondly, the motion states, it is “proper and desirable that Centre County be the site of justice in this matter. Precisely because of the unique relationship between the community and school described above, it is important that the trial and verdict unfold there.”
Sandusky was arrested in November after a grand jury investigation into child sex abuse allegations against the university football team’s defensive coordinator.
Sandusky faces more than 50 counts related to his alleged acts of molestation, which date back decades.
The case led to charges against two other Penn State officials, as well as the firing of longtime head football coach Joe Paterno.
Paterno died last month after a bout with lung cancer.