Judge puts gag order on Sandusky case

State College - Centre Daily TimesApril 11, 2012 

No more TV interviews for Jerry Sandusky’s attorney, Joe Amendola.

No more of the prosecution blasting the defense in front of reporters on the steps of the Centre County Courthouse.

The attorneys for the alleged victims are limited in what they can say, too.

The judge overseeing the child sex abuse case issued a gag order Monday, barring the attorneys and investigators in the case from speaking with the media as a way to ensure Sandusky receives a fair trial. Senior Judge John Cleland also told the attorneys to limit what their witnesses say to the press and be prepared to show proof they’ve done so.

The order said those involved can’t “make any statement which is intended to be, or could reasonably be anticipated to be, published or otherwise generally disseminated, whether by direct attribution or on a ‘background’ or ‘without attribution.’ ”

Cleland wrote the gag order was in response to “unprecedented publicity” and said he would “broadly construe this order to assure that its purposes are achieved.”

The gag order applies to anyone in the investigation that led to the 52 counts of abuse against Sandusky. The judge specifically points to prosecuting attorneys and current or past employees of the Attorney General’s Office.

State police and other law enforcement agencies are also covered. It would appear the 1998 investigation into Sandusky showering with a boy would include some Penn State police, too, but a spokeswoman didn’t return a message seeking comment.

They’re forbidden from discussing any opinion of Sandusky’s guilt or innocence, his character and evidence. The order also forbids attorneys from offering opinions about motions or arguments in court — something that’s taken place during news conferences.

Someone who violates the gag order may be found in contempt of court.

The order comes on the heels of an argumentative news conference last week that followed a brief pretrial hearing. On the courthouse steps, prosecutor Joseph McGettigan III called The Second Mile charity a “victim factory” through which Sandusky allegedly groomed boys to abuse them. McGettigan blasted the defense for waiving a preliminary hearing in December and accused them of delaying trial.

Sandusky’s attorney, Joe Amendola, called the prosecution’s remarks about the charity “outrageous and irresponsible.”

Whether that episode — and others before it — led to the order from the judge wasn’t immediately clear. A spokesman with the state court system declined to comment when asked about what led to the gag order.

The gag order appears to apply to Gov. Tom Corbett as well. Corbett began the Sandusky investigation in 2009 when he was the state attorney general. A spokesman for Corbett didn’t return a message seeking comment.

In the six months since the charges were filed, Amendola has appeared to take the media spotlight in stride. He’s had news conferences after court appearances, done numerous TV interviews, and even had a get-together at his home for national reporters, one of whom was arrested on a DUI charge after leaving.

Amendola even let Sandusky do a phone interview with Bob Costas on NBC and an interview with The New York Times. After a court appearance in February, Sandusky spoke briefly to reporters about wanting to see his grandchildren.

Amendola has said he’s taken unorthodox steps to defend his client against a presumption of guilt.

The trial is slated to take place in front of a Centre County jury, and legal experts said the judge appears to be trying to bring an end to the pretrial media coverage that could make finding an impartial pool of jurors even more difficult.

“You want to ensure as best you can that the airwaves, the media, are not filled with information that A, may be inadmissible at trial, or B, may cause people to prejudge the case,” said Jules Epstein, an associate law professor at Widener University and an expert in criminal law.

For Bill Costopoulos, a high-profile criminal defense attorney in Harrisburg, the gag order wasn’t a surprise because of how much national publicity the case has generated.

“I have never seen such media attention to any case in my career of 40 years,” he said.

Gag orders have been issued in other high-profile cases in Centre County in the past few years. A gag order was imposed in 2007 in the Andrew Rogers murder case, which is set for retrial next month. In 2010, a judge imposed a gag order in the Mirinda Boob and Ron Heichel murder case.

To read more, visit www.centredaily.com.

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