Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Small Town Braces Itself for Big Sandusky Trial

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Small Town Braces Itself for Big Sandusky Trial

Article excerpt

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Charles Brown is a few minutes late today -- funny, because usually it's his pal Richard Knupp who arrives when the rest of their friends have sipped half of their first cup of coffee and finished their first story.

It's 10 a.m. on a Friday. Judge Brown, Mr. Knupp, Joe Haas and Bob Royer gather like they do most mornings at Diamond Deli, a shop that sits across the street from the Centre County Courthouse, which the nation has viewed countless times.

Mr. Knupp is a Bellefonte historian; Judge Brown is a Centre County senior judge. Mr. Haas and Mr. Royer have retired from management positions. They are longtime residents who have lived and studied Bellefonte, but the past six months have brought a torrent of new experiences.

In December, it wasn't uncommon for them to spend an hour at the deli discussing the details they'd read about the Jerry Sandusky case. Sometimes, especially lately, they don't talk about the Sandusky trial at all.

The trial, of course, finally begins today with jury selection. Mr. Sandusky's alleged crimes from State College are being tried in this smaller town 10 miles away, Centre County's seat of government.

A Bellefonte dateline will be the first word on newspaper and Internet stories read by thousands each day. Myriad television personalities will start or end their reports saying they are in Bellefonte. Thirty-eight TV trucks, with the possibility of more, have booked space for the upcoming trial.

Like trials from Charles Manson's to O.J. Simpson's to Casey Anthony's, the Sandusky case will become an object of national fascination, but instead of unfolding in a major city, the proceedings will play out in a town of 6,100. The exposure could enliven such a place and its habitants if it did not stem from an event so tragic, and, if it hadn't become so pervasive in the past six months, so tiring.

"Could you really go to the circus," Judge Brown asks, "every day of your life?"

Bellefonte's origins

The measure of anonymity Bellefonte enjoyed before the trial masked the town's importance to the region. Happy Valley is known nationwide because of Joe Paterno and Penn State University.

Penn State exists because its land was donated by Bellefonte resident James Irvin, an owner of iron works. Bellefonte's Andrew Curtin helped develop the school. The stadium where Mr. Sandusky once coached is named after James Beaver, another Bellefonte resident.

"If there wasn't any Bellefonte, there wouldn't be Penn State," says Frank Halderman, president of Bellefonte's borough council.

Bellefonte was born as the 18th century ended, the town's livelihood forged from iron, a resource that allowed it to boom, sustain, grow and develop another identity.

Other boroughs had applied to become the county seat. Bellefonte earned the designation. It would be a town for justice. …

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