published Monday, June 11th, 2012

Opening statements in Sandusky case set to begin

Television satellite trucks line South Allegheny Street in front of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., Sunday, June 10, 2012, in preparation for opening statements in the child sexual abuse trial of former Penn State Football assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky this morning. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Television satellite trucks line South Allegheny Street in front of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., Sunday, June 10, 2012, in preparation for opening statements in the child sexual abuse trial of former Penn State Football assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky this morning. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

By MARK SCOLFORO

BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) — A jury of seven women and five men will get their first glimpse of the case against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky — and his defense — when opening statements begin inside a central Pennsylvania courthouse.

Sandusky's lawyers and state prosecutors have been under a gag order for months, so their outline of the case to jurors today should reveal new details about an investigation that has taken several years.

Sandusky, 68, faces 52 criminal counts that he sexually abused 10 boys over 15 years, allegations he's consistently denied. Sandusky's lawyers were not able to get the judge to delay the trial, and on Friday Judge John Cleland rejected their request to have some or all of the counts dismissed.

Many of the alleged victims are expected to take the stand for the prosecution, and their credibility in jurors' eyes could prove to be the decisive factor in determining the verdict.

But however the case ends, when it comes to getting to the bottom of what happened, the trial will definitely not be the final word.

There are many other questions being asked in a number of forums that would have to be answered for the complete story to come to light.

First and foremost, the state attorney general's office has repeatedly indicated it has an "active and ongoing" related investigation, and the mere existence of the open investigation suggests additional criminal charges could result.

The university has said its president has been in talks with state prosecutors about when he will appear before a grand jury to answer questions, and Penn State disclosed last month that it would cover legal expenses of eight employees who also received subpoenas this year.

Citing a gag order, a spokesman for the attorney general declined to comment on the current status of the investigation, which is also obscured by the secrecy rules that govern operation of investigative grand juries in the state.

There also clearly is a federal investigation, but there are few details beyond the fact that Penn State said that in February it had been issued a wide-ranging subpoena from the U.S. attorney's office in Harrisburg, seeking computer records and other information. Amanda Endy, a spokeswoman for the office, said Thursday that federal prosecutors have not commented on the topic and declined a request to discuss any update.

The state grand jury that investigated Sandusky reported one accuser claimed to have been sexually abused while attending bowl games with Sandusky in Florida or Texas, which could raise legal issues best addressed by the federal system.

Penn State has spent millions of dollars already on its own investigation into the matter, led by former federal judge Louis Freeh, who spent eight years as FBI director. That report is expected to be issued after the Sandusky criminal trial ends, perhaps in August, and should add substantially to what is known about the scandal.

"They've interviewed over 400 current and former employees from numerous departments, such as the academic, administrative, and athletic departments; current and past trustees," university spokesman Dave La Torre said Thursday. He said the objective was to figure out how the alleged crimes occurred and recommend changes, and to review Penn State's handling of sex crimes and misconduct.

Both the Big 10 Conference and the NCAA have contacted Penn State to indicate their interest in the matter. A Big 10 spokesman said Friday its review was ongoing and could not provide a status update.

The NCAA launched its inquiry into potential rules violations in November, asking Penn State to explain how it applied "institutional control" in the matter, whether school officials followed their policies on honesty and ethical conduct, and asking what steps have been taken to prevent a similar episode.

On Thursday, the NCAA issued a statement saying the school was still collecting information from a special investigative counsel and that when the school's investigation was complete, the school likely would respond to NCAA president Mark Emmert's original questions. The results could lead to a formal NCAA investigation into possible rules violations.

La Torre said both the NCAA and Big 10 have told the university they would wait until Sandusky's trial has ended before any formal investigations are launched.

The U.S. Department of Education has been looking into whether the school violated the Clery Act, which requires reporting of crimes on campus, in the case of the Sandusky allegations.

La Torre said that as part of the Clery Act review, Penn State has turned over a large number of documents and files and made its employees available to answer questions and discuss procedures. Last month Penn State disclosed it had hired someone to train and monitor its employees to comply with the Clery Act.

An Education Department spokesman, Chris Greene, declined to comment Thursday on the status of that investigation.

The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youth founded by Sandusky in 1977, and where prosecutors allege he met and groomed alleged victims, had announced a Philadelphia law firm was conducting an internal investigation with an eye toward recommending changes in its future operations.

But two weeks ago, The Second Mile announced it was seeking court approval to cease operations and transfer programs to a Texas-based youth ministry for abused and neglected children.

It's not clear what that has meant for the future of its investigation, including whether any results will be made public. Messages seeking comment on the topic from David Woodle, The Second Mile's interim president, were not returned.

Two Penn State administrators are awaiting trial on charges they failed to properly report suspected abuse and lied to the grand jury investigating Sandusky. The pending charges raise the prospect that investigators under the attorney general's office may be continuing to look into that matter, which commonly occurs after charges are filed and before trial.

Finally, several plaintiff's lawyers have surfaced, although only one has filed a complaint, in Philadelphia. That case is on hold until Sandusky's trial wraps up, and other lawyers also have indicated they are holding back until a verdict is reached.

Civil litigation has a lower burden of proof than criminal cases and could potentially force Sandusky to undergo questioning under oath. That process might produce information that none of the other probes will reveal, said Richard Serbin, an Altoona lawyer who has successfully pursued sex abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.

"There's not only Sandusky, but there are those individuals or legal entities that may have knowledge or should have had knowledge and failed to take appropriate action," Serbin said.

How much public information civil litigation might produce remains to be seen — only a small percentage of such lawsuits go to trial, Serbin said.

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