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Friday, June 8, 2012

Jury Nullification in the Jerry Sandusky Sex Molestation Case?

     The Jerry Sandusky sexual molestation trial began on Monday, June 4, 2012 at the Centre County Court House in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The 58-year-old former Penn State football coach under Joe Paterno (who died of cancer last January), faces 52 counts of sexually molesting, over a period of 15 years, 10 boys. Sandusky met and allegedly groomed his victims through a charity he started in 1977 called The Second Mile. The defendant stands accused of having sex with these boys in his home, and in Penn State locker room showers.

     Prosecutors wanted to try the case before jurors from outside the immediate Penn State area. The defense argued for a jury of locals. On this important issue, Judge John Cleland ruled in Sandusky's favor.

     Since Centre County is home to Penn State's massive main campus in State College, there wasn't a single prospective juror (600 of them) who wasn't intimately familiar with Jerry Sandusky, the case, and the school. State College and Bellefonte are company towns, and the company is Penn State University. America is red, white, and blue. Centre County is just white and blue.

     By June 6, twelve jurors and four alternatives had been seated. Eight of the jurors had direct connections to Penn State, as did two of the alternates. Some had graduated from the school, others currently work there, and one is a student. Several of the jurors acknowledged that they regularly attend Penn State football games, and one of them has a cousin who played for Joe Paterno. Good heavens.

     Trial lawyers know that a case is essentially won or lost after the jury is selected. The acquisition of jury members who will be sympathetic to one's client has become an art and science. A litigator who doesn't know how to tailor a jury to a defendant can hire a jury selection consultant.

     In the Sandusky trial, if the prosecutors wanted a panel of jurors unaffiliated with Penn State, they are in trouble. With limited jury selection challenges, there was no way for them to carve an impartial group out of a pool of prospective jurors from Centre County.

     In the O. J. Simpson murder trial, the Los Angeles County prosecutors were careless in selecting the jury because they assumed that no person with a brain, when presented the DNA evidence against Simpson, would acquit this defendant. They were wrong. The Simpson prosecutors failed to anticipate the real possibility in that case of jury nullification. They should have known that some jurors will simply ignore the evidence and vote according to how they want the case to come out. (In one celebrated trial, the jury voted to acquit because they believed an acquittal would make a better movie.)

     Jury nullification explains the O. J. Simpson verdict, and many believe it led to the acquittals in the Casey Anthony and John Edwards trials. (I don't believe it played a role in the Edwards case.)

     While the Sandusky jury has not been tailored to the defendant through professional juror profiling and screening, I think, thanks to Judge Cleland, it has come to the defense ready-made. The Sandusky verdict, or lack of verdict, could be more about school loyalty than one man's guilt or innocence.  

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