BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Jerry Sandusky walked out of a courthouse Friday where a judge was considering whether to let him see his relatives and friends while he awaits trial on child sex-abuse charges and told reporters Friday he felt people have turned on him.
The judge could rule early next week on Sandusky’s request for greater freedom, including supervised visits with his grandchildren, but Sandusky said he felt people who had been welcomed in his home were now trying to keep him confined indoors. He denies the criminal allegations.
“I’ve associated with thousands of young people over the years,” said Sandusky, 68, the former Penn State defensive coordinator charged with 52 criminal counts involving 10 victims over 15 years. “And now, all of a sudden, because of allegations and perceptions that have been tried to be created of me, now I can’t take our dog on my deck and throw out biscuits to him.”
Sandusky’s home borders an elementary school and its playground. After he sought permission to see relatives and friends and leave his home to help lawyers prepare his case, the attorney general’s office countered with a court filing that said neighbors expressed concern for the safety of children. A teacher and intern also reported that he had been watching children from his back deck.
Prosecutors want an order that restricts Sandusky to the inside of his home, which a county probation officer said would be unusual for people under in-home detention.
His lawyer, Joe Amendola, told Judge John Cleland that Sandusky had not sought probation officers’ approval for adult visitors, but he was seeking the judge’s permission because he sensed the officers were reluctant to do anything out of the ordinary. An investigator said none of the complaints involved Sandusky approaching children.
State prosecutor Jonelle Eshbach told the judge that a clearly defined trip to help his legal team would be one thing, but she was against letting him have visitors. The allegations include charges he sexually attacked a boy in the basement of his home, while his wife was upstairs.
“This home was not safe for children for 15 years, and it’s not safe for children now,” Eshbach said. “We think that the actual contact, visitation with his grandchildren is not a good idea. And we also feel that way with regard to visitors.”
Prosecutors noted that one daughter-in-law strongly objects to increased contact between her children and Sandusky, while 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.
State investigator Anthony Sassano testified that children had noticed Sandusky from their classroom, and that his presence was disrupting school activities.
One neighbor had used a video camera to document Sandusky’s time on his deck, Sassano said. He said Sandusky was seen on the video brushing his dog or letting the dog go outside to play. Sandusky cannot walk the dog because of his bail restrictions, Amendola said.
Sandusky said after the hearing that his neighbors have changed toward him.
“Now all of a sudden, these people turn on me when they’ve been in my home with their kids,” he said. “They’ve attended birthday parties when they’ve been on that deck. When their kids have been playing in my yard. When their kids have been sled riding when they’ve asked to sled ride. It’s difficult for me to understand.”
His home at the end of a dead-end street has a black and orange “No Trespassing” sign at the driveway, while earlier this week the two properties directly adjacent to his home sported white signs supporting the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Widener University law professor Wes Oliver, who observed the proceeding, predicted Cleland was unlikely to order Sandusky to remain indoors.
“Clearly what the prosecution was doing was trying to appease the community,” said Oliver, who teaches criminal procedure.
The hearing concerned various issues that have arisen since Sandusky was first arrested in early November. Cleland indicated he hoped to start trial May 14.
In an unusual move, prosecutors are seeking a jury from outside Centre County, home of Penn State and a charity for children that Sandusky founded in 1977, The Second Mile.
Sandusky wants a jury made up of people who live in State College and the surrounding area, and Cleland had him testify to ensure that he was fully aware of the ramifications.
Sandusky said he was aware that he would not be able to launch an appeal, if he is convicted, on grounds the local jury was biased. Sandusky said there was not a viable alternative in Pennsylvania, where his case has been heavily reported.
“I don’t believe that would matter, relative to any place (else) in this state,” he testified.
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.
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.
Another issue, the defense’s request for early disclosure of grand jury transcripts, received little attention in the courtroom, and afterward Sandusky defense lawyer Karl Rominger said it may end up being resolved by the judge who supervised the jury.
Both defense and prosecution said the mid-May trial date may not be realistic, given that the need for other pretrial issues to be ironed out. Amendola said he believes the case can be heard in two weeks, while prosecutors said a month is more likely.
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.