Van Kuren received her first-ever jury summons in early May, a month before the start of Jerry Sandusky’s trial on 48 criminal counts involving sexual abuse of young boys. The former Penn State University defensive coordinator was convicted June 22 on 45 of the counts, and immediately taken to jail to await sentencing.
In a phone interview with The Herald-Mail, Van Kuren several times used the word “compelling” when describing eight victims’ testimony.
“The stories were compelling,” she said. “I think it was difficult because you knew how difficult it was for them to talk about it.”
Van Kuren, who has lived in Centre County, Pa., for more than 20 years, said she is not sure what Sandusky’s defense team could have done differently.
“It would’ve been difficult to find something that made sense,” she said.
Van Kuren returned home to her husband and 6-year-old son exhausted after seven days of testimony and 21 hours of deliberation over two days. She said jurors were so well-isolated that they did not realize the full media storm and emerging information midtrial, including that Sandusky’s adopted son announced he also had suffered abuse.
Van Kuren reached the guilty verdicts with five men and six other women.
“We got to know each other well before even deliberating,” she said. “I think that helped us with teamwork.”
Despite having followed media reports about the case and teaching classes at Penn State, Van Kuren had a gut feeling she still would be chosen for the jury out of 600 candidates. She said she knew she could keep an open mind about the situation.
“I was actually feeling quite nervous about it,” she said of her reaction to being selected.
The last victim to take the stand made the biggest impact on Van Kuren.
“He was so silent and had been quiet about what was going on, and he dealt with it in his own way,” she said. “You realize the impact.”
Van Kuren missed hearing defense attorney Joe Amendola say in opening statements that Sandusky would take the stand. She wondered several times whether he would.
“I want to know more than the fact he denies the charges,” she said. “I wanted to know more.”
Sandusky, 68, ultimately did not testify in his defense.
The not-guilty verdicts on three counts developed for technical reasons relating to the legal definitions of those charges, Van Kuren said.
“One thing I will remember always is the system works,” she said. “Our (judicial) system worked ... (and) we were able to make a fair decision.”
Van Kuren now is considering how she can help abuse victims in the future. She already has added her handprints to a State College, Pa., mural depicting key figures in the community.