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Bearing Witness: In Judges Chambers with Jerry Sandusky

By Roxine Behrens

(Cross posted at Daily Kos)

For the past two days, I sat 10 feet away from accused pedophile, Jerry Sandusky, his attorneys Joe Amendola and Karl Rominger; from the AG’s office, Joseph McGettigan, III, (another attorney not pictured – Frank Fina I believe); and Judge John Cleland.

No pictures were allowed, but Art Lien, from was in chambers with me on day one and drew this scene to give you some perspective of what it looked like.

I arrived at the courthouse early Tuesday morning to ensure I would be one of the first five admitted as “Public.”  (I was second in line).  The young gentleman who was first in line is starting Law School in the Fall at American University and is finishing up his studies at Penn State this summer.

We proceeded into the large courtroom and watched as all 209 prospective jurors were checked in.  Around 8:45 a.m. the prosecutors, Jerry Sandusky and his defense team entered and sat at the front of the courtroom.  Soon after, Judge John Cleland came in and spoke to the jury pool.

Typically, Judges will speak to them from the bench, wearing their robes – but Judge Cleland, instead, came in without his robe on and spoke to the jury pool standing in the front row of benches.  He thanked them for their service and spoke about the history our legal system comes from, dating back a thousand years.  I watched the jury pool’s reaction to him with interest, and you could sense a palpable change in the atmosphere from “I don’t want to be here” to “It is my civic duty to be here.”  Body languages changed as people leaned forward, captivated by his words.

Judge Cleland then explained that the selection process would be broken up into three parts.  Phase I would be completed with the check-in in the large courtroom.  Phase II would consist of blocks of 40 jurors being called into a smaller courtroom down the hall where they would be asked a number of general questions and answer by raising their cards (each juror was assigned a number to protect their identity).  At this phase, some would be excused by the judge for financial hardships, medical conditions, and other factors deemed worthy by Judge Cleland.  Finally, in Phase 3, one by one each juror would enter the scene above and be asked another set of questions by Judge Cleland as well as follow-up questions by both the defense and prosecution.

At the conclusion of this Q&A session, the judge would confer with the attorneys and let the prospective juror know right then whether they were selected or not.

An officer of the court approached the row of chairs we were sitting in and pointed to the young man sitting next to me.  She said, “Judge Cleland has selected you to view Phase II of the trial.”  She then pointed to me and said “The Judge has requested you to be in chambers for Phase III.”

My Impressions

I, of course, was surprised by the rapidity with which they were able to seat a jury.  The mood in chambers was amicable, the lawyers treated each other very respectfully, and Judge Cleland was firm but fair in his dealing with both the prosecution and defense in their challenges for cause as well as with each individual juror.  Let me take a moment to say that I am fully convinced that Judge Cleland is the best judge to handle this case.  In watching him work over these last two days, I know full well that both the alleged victims in this case as well as Jerry Sandusky will benefit from his careful, thoughtful, measured consideration of all facts and will be treated fairly by this judge.  To say I am impressed is an understatement.  If I was on trial, this is the judge I would want on the bench.

The judge asked the same questions of each juror (I won’t bore you with them here, they are in the MSM if you’re interested) and then would allow both the prosecution and defense to ask any follow-up questions from either the questionnaire, their positive responses to questions in Phase II or to expand upon something they just answered in Phase III.  Amendola’s questions typically centered on jurors with children, focusing on the age of any boys they might have.  If they had boys in the age range of say 8-17, he would ask them if they would have trouble hearing about alleged sexual acts allegedly perpetrated by Mr. Sandusky on boys of that age group.  If they had boys in the age group of say 20-30, he would say you will be hearing stories from young men who are now in that age group, alleging acts of a sexual nature allegedly perpetrated by Mr. Sandusky when they were children – and would the juror be able to be fair.  For the most part, Mr. Amendola tried either for cause or by using one of his peremptory strikes (each side had 7 for the initial 12 jurors, 2 for the 4 alternates) on most jurors who had boys in those age ranges.

I remember going home at the end of day 1 surprised at the demographics of the initial 9 jurors.  Out of the 5 men, only 1 or 2 were over the age of 35-40, the others were quite young, early to late 20′s, possibly early 30s.  Three of the women chosen were middle aged, with the fourth being very young – I would place her at middle 20′s at best.  But when I returned on day 2, sitting back in the courtroom and thinking about the events of the day before, it hit me.  These younger jurors don’t have any kids – (okay, perhaps that was evident to all of you – but I was up at 4:30 every morning, had not had coffee for the past 3 days and was at the courthouse for 11 hours on Tuesday and 10 hours on Wednesday!  So give me my light bulb moment)

If you want a more detailed description of each juror as they were selected, Sara Ganim’s report is here.


What surprised me

Jerry Sandusky’s active involvement in the selection of jurors.  I, of course, watched closely any and all mannerisms and reactions of Mr. Sandusky. One thing I noticed immediately was that in any courtroom he was in, Phase I, Phase II or Judge’s chambers (Phase III), his chair was noticeably shorter than Mr. Amendola’s or Mr. Rominger’s.  He sat hunched over, as if trying to convey a diminutive stature.  And Mr. Sandusky is not a small man (I would guess over 6′), but it appeared to me that he was trying to make himself as small as possible.  There was one juror Amendola wanted to strike for cause because of her husband’s relationship to John McQueary and Dr. Dranov; however, Judge Cleland denied the request.  Amendola was going to use one of his strikes against her, but Jerry Sandusky leaned over and said to keep her.

One of the most interesting things I saw was during one of the breaks as they were deciding the final 2 alternates for the jury.  Jerry Sandusky was conferring with his attorneys about the jurors coming up next.  There were two women and one man next in line and they wanted the man no matter what.  They were talking about tactics to employ to ensure this man got on the jury.  At this point, the prosecution had used both of its peremptory strikes and the defense had one left.  Rominger was certain that one of the two women would be struck for cause and at the very worst, they would end up with one of the next two women and the gentleman they wanted, Juror 15 as he is now known – from Sara Ganim’s report linked above:

Juror 15 (alternate): Walked in and immediately smiled brightly at Sandusky. A man in his 50s with close-cropped brown hair. Attorneys and Sandusky whispered in strategy to get him on the jury. Has two boys, ages 29 and 30. Works in Reading, Pa., so is out of town during the week. Is a graduate of Penn State. His wife is director of Upward Bound, a Penn State program geared at getting high schoolers ready for college. Is a football fan, mostly in the 1970s.

However, as the Judge was asking one of the questions, he misspoke and was corrected by Jerry Sandusky.  Paraphrasing here:

Judge:  The burden of proof in this case is on the commonwealth, to prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt, their case.  The defense doesn’t have to put on any evidence.  Some people think “well, I will listen to both sides and then determine guilt or innocence.”  However, the defense doesn’t have to prove anything, the burden of proof is on the prosecution.  If the prosecutor fails to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, even if the defense doesn’t present any evidence, you will have to come back with a guilty [sic] verdict, do you understand that?

Juror: Yes Sir

Sandusky:  Um, Judge – I think you said that wrong, you said guilty but you should have said NOT guilty.

Judge: Did I say that wrong? let me restate, you will have to find the defendant not guilty if the prosecution fails to convince you beyond a reasonable doubt, do you understand that?

Juror: Yes Sir

Sandusky:  I’m sorry to interrupt

Judge: No, you have a stake in this too, that’s fine.

This was the one and only  mistake I ever saw Judge Cleland make in the two days I sat in his presence.  And, again, I can’t say enough good things about this man.  Throughout the two days, watching him gently guide each juror through this questioning, dealing with both sets of lawyers, keeping everything running smoothly, keeping in mind the hundreds of other jurors waiting their turn and taking the time to go out and update them of where we were, allowing 1/2 of them to leave on the first day, it was a privilege to be in judge’s chambers and to witness our legal process at its finest.

On day one, Jerry Sandusky’s demeanor was meek.  He did not look around much, we only made eye contact maybe 3 times.  He focused on the notebook in front of him that had the juror’s questionnaires and would look directly at each juror as they answered questions.  During breaks, as they would walk by us to go into the hallway, McGettigan, Amendola and Rominger would stop, chat with the three of us, ask us how it’s going, etc., but Sandusky would walk by, head down and say nothing.  To me, he seemed like a little kid who had been sent to the principal’s office; in the way he sat, hunched over, in the way he shuffled out the door for breaks, not looking at anyone, and in the way he flipped back and forth in the binder, like a child trying to distract himself.

On day two, he was a bit more animated.  I understand in the morning session, he actually talked to the two pool reporters and the young pre-law student asking them how they got stuck with him, or something of that nature.  But this is the only time I’m aware of that he spoke to anyone other than his attorneys or the judge.  He seemed more upbeat on day two, flashing a smile now and then. But my overall impression mirrors perhaps Jerry Sandusky’s impression of himself; in his own words, from his book “Touched”

“Here I was, a grown man and a coach for a nationally respected football institution, and I had reverted back to the days of my mischievous youth.  I had always professed that someday I would reap the benefits of maturity, but my lifestyle just wouldn’t let me.  There were so many things I had done in my life – so many of them crazy and outlandish.  But I have always had fun, and one thing is for certain:  My time on this earth has always been unique.  At the times when I found myself searching for maturity, I usually came up with insanity.  That’s the way it is in the life of Gerald Arthur Sandusky.” — Chapter 2/Tylerdale

Why did I go

Judge Cleland has ruled that the victims are not allowed to use pseudonymsand will be required to state their full name for the record.  Every reporter who asked me why I was there I told them the same thing.

If you are going to release their names, then release mine.  Because I, too, am a victim of child sexual abuse.  But there is no shame in being a victim.  Let’s place the shame and blame where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders of the pedophiles.  I stand in solidarity with the victims.

I am happy to report that every reporter I spoke with said they were not going to release the names of the victims.  So as far as I know, the MSM has decided to protect their anonymity.  If a name is released, several reporters told me it would be by a blogger.  I hope anyone reading this that attends the trial and hears the names of the victims will respect their privacy and NOT put their names in the public realm.

I was stopped on Monday night by a reporter from the AP who asked me my thoughts on the Sandusky trial and why I was there. (I’m the second one on the tape.)

I will be back on Monday for the start of the trial.

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