BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The child sex abuse trial of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky began on Tuesday with jury selection in a case that shook the university and its football program and focused attention on sexual predation in the United States.
Sandusky, a retired assistant coach, faces 52 counts of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year period. Prosecutors allege Sandusky, 68, met the boys through a charity he founded and some of the assaults occurred at Penn State facilities.
Picking a jury from a pool of about 200 candidates is expected to take at least a week.
Sandusky arrived Tuesday morning at the Centre County Court of Common Pleas in Bellefonte, about 10 miles (16 km) northeast of State College, site of Pennsylvania State University’s main campus, in the company of his lawyer, Joe Amendola, and wearing a gray suit, with files tucked under one arm. Neither spoke to the crowd of reporters as they entered the courthouse.
The case as drawn intense media attention, and about two dozen television trucks were lined up outside the courthouse Tuesday morning in a light drizzle. Area residents said they were hoping the trial would help put the Sandusky scandal behind them.
The explosive accusations in November 2011 forced the firing of university President Graham Spanier and of Joe Paterno, college football’s winningest coach.
The grand jury charges marked a watershed in awareness of child sexual abuse since Sandusky seemed to be an unlikely predator as a children’s champion and well-respected former coach.
As the Sandusky shockwave spread, sex abuse hotlines and lawyers saw an upsurge in calls and emails.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch appeal for a delay by the defence on Monday. Amendola, Sandusky’s attorney, had argued he needs more time to go through evidence.
Prosecutors allege Sandusky had physical contact with the boys, known in court documents as Victims 1 to 10, that ranged from tickling and a “soap battle” in Penn State showers to oral and anal sex.
If convicted on all counts, Sandusky could be sentenced to more than 500 years in prison. He is under house arrest with a $250,000 bail.
Sandusky has already laid out a potential defence, saying in an NBC television interview in November that he engaged in horseplay with alleged victims but stopped short of sexual intercourse or penetration.
The actual start of argument in the trial could be pushed back from its scheduled June 11 start since jury selection could take a week or more, possibly followed by another day or two for pre-trial motions, according to Christopher Mallios, an adviser to AEquitas, a resource group for sex crimes prosecutors.
Penn State is by far the biggest institution and employer in Centre County, set among hills and farmland in central Pennsylvania. Mallios said the area’s close-knit small-town atmosphere could complicate seating a jury.
Underscoring the web of relationships in the area, all the Centre County judges have recused themselves. Judge John Cleland, the judge in the case, is a juvenile justice expert from McKean County in north-western Pennsylvania.
Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Dan Burns and Anthony Boadle