Setting the Scene at Sandusky Trial

The heart of Bellefonte was a flurry of activity as jury selection began in the case against the former Penn State assistant coach. Otherwise, things were kind of quiet in Centre County.

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — The Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial began here Tuesday, with the first day of jury selection at the Centre County Courthouse. By the end of the day, nine people (five men and four women) were selected to serve on the panel of 12 jurors and four alternates.  

But a strict limit on media access to the proceedings in Courtroom 1 — five local reporters and two pool reporters were allowed inside — made for some interesting scenes outside the historic courthouse throughout the day.  

Those driving into the town with a population of about 6,000 saw no evidence of the highly publicized trial of the former Penn State assistant coach until getting within a block of the courthouse square. Parking spaces could be found very close to the courthouse. And while roads were blocked for Sandusky's preliminary hearing in December, on this day everything was open.  

The only change from the normal traffic routine was a police officer directing vehicles within the square.  

The area immediately around the courthouse was a flurry of activity throughout the day. The many satellite news trucks surrounding the building, with motors running to power equipment, made for a constant din. The thick smell of diesel exhaust permeated the square. There were black stains on the streets below the trucks' exhaust pipes.  

In front of the courthouse, national and local media outlets put up tents to provide shade from the sun. There was also a podium set up, and it was surrounded by a throng of cameras.

But the only people who spoke at the podium were the pool reporters. With a gag order in effect for the trial, none of the attorneys were allowed to address the media.

It was tricky business for media types outside. There was never advance notice of when the pool reporters would emerge to address the pack. When they did, it was a mad scramble for the outside reporters to listen to and then ask questions of the pool reporters.  

Once those scrums were complete, it was a race to get the news out. Reporters muttered profanities as the lack of wireless Internet access or even 3G cellular coverage prevented them from tweeting as quickly as they would have liked. Any number of live TV shots would be going on at once. One station even had a female reporter do a live spot and then throw to a male reporter doing his own live spot 30 feet away — this off the same pool reporter update.  

But there were long lulls in the action outside, too. Media outlets set up lawn chairs and even had coolers full of water and soft drinks. Once stories were filed, reporters basically just hung out, looking busy checking smart phones and iPads, fixing their hair and makeup, and engaging in banter among one another. Some TV folks even changed clothes during the day.

Cameramen would head to the satellite trucks to do whatever they do in satellite trucks. Once finished, they would emerge outside. Some grabbed a bite to eat. Some talked to other cameramen. Some smoked cigarettes.

Of course, all of this was enough to amuse the steady stream of locals stopping by to check out the scene. At one point, four men (two wearing camouflage hunting clothing) and a dog stood on the corner opposite the courthouse, chatting among themselves. Even the little white dog seemed interested in what was going on across the street.

At least one local business tried to make the most of the influx of media types. On a corner near the back of the courthouse, there was a hand-written sign directing reporters to Jim's Italian Cuisine a block and a half away. The restaurant offered free wireless Internet access.  

The rear of the courthouse is up a steep hill from the front of the building, but there was sporadic action there, as well. That is where Sandusky and defense attorney Joe Amendola entered and left the building, and both events led to a wave of shutters going off.  

The duo arrived shortly before the 8:30 a.m. start of jury selection, with Sandusky emerging from Amendola's black BMW SUV holding a laptop and bag of fruit.

They left when the first day of jury selection was complete — just after 5:30 p.m. Longtime Centre County sheriff Denny Nau, sans his trademark cowboy hat, provided a personal escort. Some photographers spent the entire day outside the courthouse just for a chance to shoot Sandusky coming and going.


As Amendola began to enter the driver's seat of his car, a television reporter shouted from a hill above to ask how things went.

“We made progress,” Amendola said.  

“How much progress?” the reporter shouted back, apparently unaware of the gag order. There did not seem to be a reply.  

Meanwhile, a dozen or so miles away in State College — where the Sandusky scandal erupted in early November — there was little sign of the big trial just down the road.  

Places that had been overrun with media, students and fans after the Sandusky charges were filed — eventually leading to the firing of Hall of Fame Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier — were completely calm.  

College Avenue, where students rioted after Paterno was fired, featured little traffic. The only busy spot was an outdoor farmers' market at the intersection of Locust Lane.

On the nearby Old Main Lawn, where students protested and later held vigils — and Old Main itself served as the backdrop for hundreds of national news reports — a construction crew was busy tearing up a sidewalk.

McKee Street, where students and media gathered en masse outside of Paterno's home in the days before and after he was dismissed, was all but desolate. The lawn of the home — a trampled mess in November — was neatly manicured, with little white and red flowers boarding the beds. There was a for-sale sign in front of the house next door.  

The Paterno statue outside of Beaver Stadium, which became a hub of media and mourning activity when the coach died in January following a short bout with cancer, was once again unadorned. The thousands of flowers and mementos left by fans had long since been removed.  

Lasch Building, the heart of the PSU football complex where some of Sandusky's alleged offenses occurred, was back to business as usual, too. There were no reporters staked out trying to land interviews with players and coaches. The front parking lot was nearly full, mostly with SUVs and pickup trucks, as new PSU coach Bill O'Brien and his staff prepared for the 2012 season.  

Early in the day, O'Brien released a depth chart. It was big news in these parts.  

Jury selection continues Wednesday. Judge John Cleland is expected to hear opening statements in the trial Monday.

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