On Friday, June 8, 2012, the judge overseeing former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse trial denied defense motions to dismiss the charges in the case. This allowed for opening statements in the trial on Monday, June 11, 2012. Sandusky is accused of fifty-two counts of sexual misconduct involving young boys. His lawyers had sought to have the charges dismissed arguing some were too vague and a lack of sufficient evidence on others. Judge John Cleland's ruling came as Penn State put the finishing touches on a policy requiring all university employees to get training on reporting child abuse. The failure to report was the source of controversy and had a direct impact on the accusations toward Sandusky.
The judge did not explain his reasons for denying the defense motions to dismiss the charges against Sandusky. The decision came after both sides settled on a jury of five men and seven women to hear the case. There were also four alternates chosen. Sandusky has been under house arrest since he was charged with sexually abusing ten boys, some of whom he met through a charity he created for underprivileged children. The charity has since been dismantled as a result of the scandal.
The charges against Sandusky include involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, unlawful contact with minors, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children. Sandusky has denied the charges. Sandusky's lawyers argued that accusations in the most high-profile part of the case, involving an allegation that Sandusky molested a boy in the shower in the Penn State football complex, should be dismissed because prosecutors have not identified the boy. The allegation comes from former graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who reported seeing Sandusky engaged in what appeared to be sexual contact with a boy in 2002. The failure of Penn State coach Joe Paterno and two university administrators to fully act on the allegations cost them their jobs. Paterno has since died.
The defense team argued that prosecutors have not been able to identify one of the other alleged victims and said there was too little evidence to proceed to trial on another. According to defense counsel, five other charges should be dismissed because the allegations lacked details such as the times, dates and locations where prosecutors would argue that criminal conduct had occurred. In responding to Sandusky's motions, prosecutors labeled them a "confused mélange" that relies on inappropriate laws and standards. Among other things, they argued that Pennsylvania law gives prosecutors broad discretion in citing dates of attacks involving children. Other motions rejected by Judge Cleland include a request for prosecutors to hand over a written statement of other sexual misconduct allegations they intend to introduce at trial and a request to compel cell phone companies to hand over phone records that defense lawyers say will provide evidence of collusion among alleged victims.
Legal issues aside, it is plainly obvious that this trial will bring a flood of emotions to everyone involved. Half of the sixteen jurors and alternates have ties to Penn State University, including one retired professor and one current professor, three graduates, two employees and one current student, showing the prominence of the university in the local community. One thing is for sure, the presence of the university is evident in the jury. As an outsider looking in, it would appear Sandusky will be hard pressed to obtain a fair trial considering the jury’s connection to the school.
Junior Editor, Criminal Law Brief