Courts & Crime

Pa. county fears Sandusky trial could strain courts

BELLEFONTE — If and when Jerry Sandusky stands trial on charges of sexual abuse against boys, local and county officials need to come up with a plan for managing the case that’s attracting international attention.

That’s according to Steve Dershem, chairman of the Centre County Board of Commissioners. Dershem said Tuesday he’s concerned about the impact a protracted trial could have on Bellefonte, the county’s seat.

“You’re looking at a major disruption to downtown Bellefonte, and a major disruption to our organization,” Dershem said.

The preliminary hearing for Sandusky on Dec. 13 drew television, print and Web reporters from across the country. The former Penn State football coach ended up waiving the hearing and his court appearance lasted only minutes, but not before both the courtrooms in the central courthouse and neighboring annex were filled with media, attorneys and others.

Streets in Bellefonte were closed to traffic and parking was scarce. Dershem said those involved, including county court officials and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, did “a fantastic job.” But, he said, it will be difficult to maintain that level of organization for weeks. Along with county officials, Bellefonte police and the borough coordinated, with assistance from other agencies, the logistics for managing the media and other traffic in town for the preliminary hearing.

“I’m very concerned that if we do have that magnitude of trial and it does last one week, two weeks, that we just can’t shut downtown Bellefonte down to accommodate it,” Dershem said. “We’ve got to come up with a different plan.”

Sandusky is charged with sexual abuse of 10 boys over a period of 15 years. He has denied the allegations and maintains his innocence.

A trial could take place this year. Dershem said there hasn’t been discussion about moving the trial.

“l think we really need to take a look at how we do it, not where we do it,” he said.

Court Administrator Maxine Ishler said there haven’t been any discussions or decisions about moving the Sandusky trial out of the county. She said one of the attorneys would have to file a motion for a change of venue for that to be considered. Sandusky is scheduled for a pretrial conference in March.

(CDT staff writer Mike Dawson contributed to this report.)

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