BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) — Despite his repeated efforts to delay it, Jerry Sandusky's child molestation trial was set to begin with the start of jury selection, as prosecutors and his defense lawyers choose 12 people from the area around Penn State to decide his guilt or innocence.
Sandusky's lawyer said the 68-year-old, who gained fame as defensive coordinator for the university's vaunted football team, where he won two national championships, would be in the courtroom Tuesday for the start of a trial that is expected to last several weeks.
Opening statements are likely to be made Monday, but first the jurors have to be chosen, a process that could pose a monumental challenge in a region thick with Penn State alumni, employees and football fans.
Sandusky is charged with 52 criminal counts for alleged abuse of 10 boys over 15 years, allegations he has repeatedly denied.
Among the expected witnesses are several young men who contend they were abused by Sandusky. Prosecutors have claimed that Sandusky groomed boys he met through a charity he founded for at-risk youth, then attacked them, in some cases in his own home or inside university athletic facilities.
Among the challenges for jury selection are the extraordinarily heavy news coverage of the scandal and the wide reach of The Second Mile, the youth charity Sandusky founded in 1977.
"It's going to be a very, very difficult chore to pick a jury in that community," said Brian McMonagle, a Philadelphia defense attorney unconnected to the case.
Whether those Penn State ties work to the advantage of the defense or the prosecution remains to be seen.
Prosecutors, though, were so concerned that they asked Judge John Cleland to bring in prospective jurors from another county.
"The life of the university and Centre County are inextricably intertwined, both philosophically and economically," prosecutor Joseph McGettigan wrote. "To ask members of that community to … insulate themselves from the institution which informs so many aspects of their lives is asking too much."
Cleland rejected the request but said he would reconsider if a jury isn't selected in a reasonable amount of time.
The proceedings will begin with a pool of 200 prospective jurors out of a county of 154,000 people. They will be questioned about their feelings about Sandusky and the case, and about any personal ties to the opposing lawyers or to the defendant, who for more than 30 years ran The Second Mile, which will play a prominent role in the prosecution's case.
An hour before jury selection was set to begin, a dozen photographers awaited Sandusky's arrival while 10 television satellite trucks lined up outside the courthouse in Bellefonte, about 10 miles outside of State College.
Potential jurors began slowly filing into the front door of the courthouse around 8 a.m., some standing in a steady drizzle as they wait to get through security. One man wore a gray Penn State sweat shirt.
Sandusky's attorneys opposed bringing in an out-of-town jury.
Edward Schwartz, a jury consultant in Lexington, Mass., said he suspects the defense will try to shape the case in such a way that the jury will take out its frustration about the firing of longtime head coach Joe Paterno in the aftermath of Sandusky's arrest.
There's risk in such a strategy, however. The jury could instead blame Sandusky for "single-handedly bringing down the reputation of an institution they love and they feel an attachment to," Schwartz said.
Paterno was dismissed in November for not acting more decisively in 2001 after a member of his coaching staff reported seeing Sandusky in the locker room showers with a boy. Paterno died of lung cancer in January at age 85.
Stephen Capone, a veteran Pittsburgh-based lawyer, said the judge will probably not automatically disqualify anyone with a Penn State connection. Instead, he said, he suspects Cleland will ask prospective jurors if their ties to the university would prevent them from rendering a fair decision, and those who answer yes will be dismissed.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will also have a certain number of so-called peremptory challenges, which allow them to remove a potential juror without having to give a reason.
Ultimately, it may be impossible to find a jury that has no connection to Penn State or has never heard of Sandusky. The goal, McMonagle said, will be to find jurors who say they can give Sandusky a fair trial and render their verdict based on the evidence and testimony, not on what they have heard or read.
The nightmare scenario for either side, outside lawyers say, is that a prospective juror will hide his or her true feelings to get on the jury.
"The scariest thing in the world is the reality that some jurors have already formed an opinion and simply won't man up to it," said McMonagle, who has tried many high-profile cases. "They're sitting there like time bombs. That's the fear you always have to endure in a high-publicity case, particularly in a case like this."
On Monday, the judge ruled that Sandusky's alleged victims will have to testify using their real names, and that tweets or other electronic communications by reporters will not be permitted during the trial. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, meanwhile, dashed Sandusky's hopes for a last-minute delay of the trial.
Lawyers for several of the accusers had asked that their clients be allowed to testify under fake names, a rarity in criminal cases.
"Arguably any victim of any crime would prefer not to appear in court, not to be subjected to cross-examination, not to have his or her credibility evaluated by a jury — not to put his name and reputation at stake," the judge said. "But we ask citizens to do that every day in courts across the nation."
News organizations, including The Associated Press, typically do not identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
Penn State said on a website Monday that the scandal had cost the university $9.6 million as of March 31. That does not include the hiring of two new public relations firms in April for about $2.5 million to help with the fallout from the crisis.