Jurors for Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse trial won't be sequestered
Sequestered juries are protected from media reports but face stress of being away
Cost can run into hundreds of thousands to house, feed, and protect jurors during trials
CNN legal analyst: "Much more difficult for jurors to stay away from the 24-hour news cycle"
While they won’t be isolated and watched by law enforcement, they also won’t be able to lurk on Twitter, casually watch TV or even talk about the sexual abuse case that careened the Penn State University community into a media storm.
“If I were on the bench, there’s no way this jury wouldn’t have been sequestered,” CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said. “I think it’s so much more difficult for jurors to stay away from the 24-hour news cycle, and a case like this, that touches on societal taboos and famed football.”
Sandusky, 68, has been under house arrest since being charged with sexually abusing 10 boys for at least 15 years. Prosecutors allege the former Penn State football coach met some of his accusers through Second Mile, a charity he created for underprivileged kids. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Opening statements are expected to begin Monday, Judge John Cleland said, and the trial is likely to last about three weeks.
The trial will be held in Centre County as prosecutors wanted. Jurors are from the 150,000-person county, too, as Sandusky wanted – some of the 220 prospective jurors that reported Tuesday had ties to the case’s key players, Penn State or Second Mile.
Not sequestering the jury “was pretty shocking,” Hostin said. “Because this is rural Pennsylvania, this is a really small town with so many interconnections, it strikes me as imprudent not to at least keep them away from media reports.”
By keeping an explosive case in a small place, the judge is already placing a lot of trust in jurors – seven women and five men – and they’ll get clear directions on what they can and can’t do, said Richard Gabriel, a jury consultant on the Casey Anthony, O.J. Simpson and Heidi Fleiss cases.
Sequestered jurors know they’re protected from “media hordes and potential influences,” which lets them focus on the evidence, instead conversations around them at the grocery store, Gabriel said. But the stress of being away from family, home and work can affect how they deliberate, too: A closely bonded jury might have an easier time coming to a verdict, whether guilty or not guilty, but small personality conflicts could become major obstructions, he said.
Then, there’s the money: It’s not cheap to shelter, feed, transport and protect 12 jurors and four alternates for weeks.
“It’s tough on state budgets because it’s darn expensive,” Gabriel said.
Last year, a judge denied a request to sequester the jury in the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, who was accused in Michael Jackson’s death. The judge said the $500,000 cost didn’t play a role in his decision, although he acknowledged “the state of California is undergoing severe financial problems.” The jury found Murray guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The estimated cost to sequester the jury for Casey Anthony’s trial was $361,000, including transportation, lodging, security and meals. Jurors had access to certain TV channels and could go online to pay bills or order prescriptions, but their actions were closely monitored by sheriff’s deputies, and they saw their families only one afternoon every week.
The jury found Anthony not guilty of first-degree murder and most other charges in the 2008 death of her 2-year-old daughter.
Judges sometimes sequester juries while they’re deliberating, and Cleland could backtrack on his decision if jurors couldn’t avoid the case outside the courtroom, Hostin and Gabriel said. But Cleland would be walking into a logistical nightmare of quickly arranging a weeks-long, sheriff-monitored sleepover for 16.
“Judges, when they make a ruling like that, are going to stick by it,” Gabriel said. “Jurors in these high-profile cases are pretty careful about not talking to anybody, and judges get severe with news organizations – ‘You even come close to any of these jurors before this trial, and the wrath of God will come down.’
“Unless the courts are prepared, they can get really messy.”