Jerry Sandusky case: Should court let suspected pedophile see grandkids?

Trial is set for May 14 for Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach charged with sexual abuse of 10 boys. His bail conditions bar interaction with minors, but he wants the court to let him talk with and see his grandchildren. 

By , Staff writer

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    Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach charged with sexually abusing boys, pauses while speaking to the media at the Centre County Courthouse after a bail conditions hearing Friday in Bellefonte, Pa.
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Jerry Sandusky, the embattled former football coach for Pennsylvania State University who is charged with 52 criminal counts relating to the sexual abuse of boys, is tentatively set to go trial May 14. But between now and then, Mr. Sandusky is asking the court for less restrictive bail conditions even as state prosecutors pressed for tighter ones that would force the suspect to be confined indoors at his home.

Specifically, Sandusky wants to be able to have access to the grounds of his property and to talk on the phone to his grandchildren, who are minors, and to receive them as visitors in his home. As a condition of bail, Sandusky is currently not allowed to have any interaction with minors. 

Some of Sandusky's neighbors have complained that they often see Sandusky out on his backyard deck, in view of a children's playground that borders his property in State College, Pa. Sandusky should be forced to stay inside because his home is within sight of an elementary school and his presence outdoors is proving disruptive to teachers and students, prosecutors say.

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“It’s a bit unsettling … given the crimes that Jerry Sandusky is accused of, it’s very difficult to not have a very guarded state of mind,” Jody Harrington, a neighbor, told CNN early Friday.

Sandusky posted a $250,000 bail after his arrest in November. He remains subject to electronic monitoring. Sandusky has pleaded not guilty to all charges and says he is innocent. On Friday, he told state Judge John Cleland that he deserves to be on the deck and, in seeking to alter his bail conditions, that he wants to be able to talk to his 11 grandchildren on the phone and to welcome them to his house. His defense team presented letters and drawings from his family, including his grandchildren, to show that Sandusky's family supports his request for a less restrictive detention pending trial.

Sandusky also requested the ability to travel to meet with his legal team.

“Our home has been open for 27 years to all kinds of people … now all of a sudden, these people turn on me when they have been in my home with their kids, when they’ve attended birthday parties, when they have been on that deck, when their kids have been playing in my yard … it’s difficult for me to understand, to be honest,” he told reporters after the hearing.

Prosecutors ridiculed Sandusky's request, saying in their motion that “house arrest is not meant to be a house party.”

Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach writes in the state’s filing that Sandusky is “fortunate to be granted house arrest” in light of the accusations. “He has been granted the privilege of being confined in his home, which is spacious and private, and where he can eat food of his own preference and sleep in his bed at night,” Ms. Eshbach writes.

Judge Cleland did not rule on any of the motions Friday but indicated he might do so “quickly.”

Richard Frankel, a professor at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law, in Philadelphia, says it's unlikely the judge will find for the prosecution. Bail conditions, Mr. Frankel says, are typically determined on the risks a defendant may pose to the community or to himself, or whether they are a flight risk, none of which sums up Sandusky’s history to date.

“The idea that merely being visible is a threat to the community – that almost sounds like a presumption of guilt over a presumption of innocence. That seems pretty strict,” Frankel says.

Likewise, Norm Pattis, a criminal defense attorney in New Haven, Conn., says that Sandusky is not a proven flight risk and that accusations his presence on his back deck is dangerous to the community are so far based on “hysteria.”

“He’s not in prison; he’s on bond. The notion that people want him in some kind of existential prison before the real walls come in is crazy,” he says.

Prosecutors are also asking Cleland to move Sandusky’s trial outside Pennsylvania's Centre County, where Sandusky lives and where most of the crimes are alleged to have occurred. They say that it will be difficult to find a jury not connected to the Penn State University community, and that heavy media attention presents complications. The defense says that the media attention is not exclusive to Centre County and that it should not be difficult to find an impartial jury. 

The subtext of the competing motions between both legal teams is psychological warfare, Pattis says. “The goal is to win and to throw many things into the record to try to create frustration on the other side so they make a misstep,” he says.

However, because of the many complexities of the Sandusky case, it is unusual for the defense to spend so much time on the details of their client's bond restrictions, he says. 

“I’m not sure what you gain in squabbling over his grandchildren. It’s a little ridiculous,” he says.

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