Sandusky takes stand over request for local jury

By Mark Scolforo

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's request for greater freedom of movement — and visits from his young grandchildren — while he awaits trial on child sex-abuse charges was taken under advisement by a judge Friday, but prosecutors countered that Sandusky's home is not a safe place for children.

Judge John Cleland set a tentative trial date of May 14 for Sandusky and promised to rule quickly on a number of other issues, including dueling requests for changes to his bail restrictions.

The attorney general's office wants him confined to the inside of his home while on house arrest awaiting trial, while the defense asked that he be allowed out occasionally to help with the case.

Defense attorney Joe Amendola's request that Sandusky, 68, be permitted to see his grandchildren drew strenuous opposition from prosecutors.

"This home was not safe for children for 15 years, and it's not safe for children now," said state prosecutor Jonelle Eshbach.

Prosecutors noted that one daughter-in-law strongly objects to increased contact between her children and Sandusky.

Amendola presented the court with letters from Sandusky's children, and notes and drawings from his grandchildren, expressing their desire for increased contact. He also noted a court-appointed guardian for grandchildren who are part of a custody dispute found no reason Sandusky couldn't see them.

"Comparing with a jail situation, were he in jail, he would have certain rights to have visitors," Amendola told Cleland.

Outside the courthouse, Sandusky told reporters he wanted to be able to see his grandchildren — who he said wanted to see him, too — and old friends.

"Our home has been open for 27 years to all kinds of people," Sandusky said.

With his wife, Dottie, at his side, Sandusky said he had associated with thousands of young people over the years, before prosecutors filed sex abuse charge against him in November. "All of a sudden these people turn on me. It's been difficult for me to understand."

"Now I can't take my dog on my deck and throw out biscuits to him," he said.

Prosecutors have also requested an out-of-county jury to hear Sandusky's case, given the widespread media attention and close ties many people in Centre County have to Penn State.

Cleland asked to hear directly from Sandusky about his attorney's opposition to that request.

Sandusky, who was sworn in and briefly took the stand, acknowledged that his position on the jury question means he could not appeal a conviction on grounds the local jury was biased.

"I don't believe that would matter, relative to any place (else) in this state," he testified.

Sandusky smiled as he answered the judge's questions, and after the session Amendola told reporters that his client's body language reflected his personality. Amendola said the charges have devastated Sandusky, however.

"This whole situation, being cast as a pedophile, has crippled him emotionally," he said.

Cleland could try to pick a local jury and see whether prosecution concerns are valid about the pervasive publicity and local ties to Penn State and The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk children that Sandusky founded, based in nearby State College.

Prosecutors had asked for tougher bail rules, arguing that Sandusky should remain inside because neighbors and school staff have complained about his presence near an elementary school and its playground, located immediately behind his house.

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