Ex-Penn State coach Sandusky waives hearing

Ex-Penn State coach Sandusky waives hearing

By Ann O'Neill and Lena Jakobsson, CNN | Posted - Dec. 13, 2011 at 8:59 a.m.



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BELLEFONTE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is accused of sexually abusing boys, remains "totally prepared and committed to proving his innocence" after waiving his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday, his attorney said.

"We're ready to defend. We've always been ready to defend," attorney Joe Amendola told reporters outside the Centre County Courthouse after the brief court hearing.

"Today's waiver has nothing to do with conceding anything. There have been no plea negotiations. There will be no plea negotiations. This is a fight to the death. This is the fight of Jerry Sandusky's life."

Prosecutors had prepared to put some 11 witnesses on the stand Tuesday, including some of the young men who accuse Sandusky of sexually abusing them while they were children and teenagers.

The former coach faces more than 50 counts related to allegations of sexual molestation revealed in a grand jury report last month. He is accused of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, among other charges.

Sandusky's $250,000 bond on the child rape and other charges will remain in place, Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo said. He will also remain on house arrest and was ordered not to have any contact with minors, the prosecutor said.

His next court date was set for January 11, but Amendola said Sandusky will waive that appearance, as well.

During the brief hearing Tuesday, Amendola said his client intended to waive the his right to the preliminary hearing. After Magistrate Judge Robert Scott asked Sandusky if he understood he was waiving certain rights, the former coach said yes. When the hearing ended, the crowd in the courtroom broke out in chatter, prompting Scott to admonish the spectators.

Onlookers who packed the old courthouse reacted with surprised looks when they heard that the long-anticipated encounter between Sandusky and his accusers would not happen.

Costanzo told reporters that Sandusky's decision to waive the hearing was something of a welcome surprise to prosecutors. It spared Sandusky's accusers the need to recount their stories on the witness stand twice, although they would still have to testify at trial, he said.

Michael Boni, the attorney for one of the men mentioned in the grand jury report, said he had not talked with his client but expected that all the accusers were probably relieved at not having to take the stand to graphically recount the abuse they say Sandusky inflicted on them. "They have achieved the same result as they would have if they had to testify," Boni said.

Tuesday's preliminary hearing could have offered the first glimpse of what the accusers have to say beyond what was contained in the grand jury's initial 28-page presentment. Two other accusers have since come forward. But Amendola said he and Sandusky decided Monday night to waive the hearing, concluding that he would have had scant opportunity to question prosecution witnesses, turning the hearing into little more than a recitation of graphic allegations with little or no rebuttal.

"Today was a small part of this legal process," Amendola said. "It's a part that would have been very one-sided." CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said testimony by Sandusky's accusers would have "produced a cascade of damaging pretrial publicity."

"This is fairly uncommon, but it's probably a smart move by Sandusky's attorney," he said." A waiver of the hearing avoids that publicity. I'd say the waiver of the hearing raises the chance of a plea deal, but it's not a guarantee by any means that there will be a plea bargain."

The hearing had sparked a media event the likes of which this quaint borough, population 6,200, has never seen. Bellefonte, the Centre County seat, is about a dozen miles from State College, home to Penn State -- the location of many of the alleged crimes.

Hundreds of journalists descended on the courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its 26-foot white columns, marble stairs, clock tower and Christmas garland hung like bunting, it seems torn from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator for Penn State University's football team, is accused of molesting boys he met through a youth charity he founded called The Second Mile. He has spoken to NBC's Bob Costas and The New York Times, denying the allegations.

He has acknowledged showering and "horsing around" with boys, and says he has an attraction to children, but said it is not sexual in nature.

Amendola said Sandusky's defense team will seek to challenge the credibility of the accusers in any way possible, including investigating possible collusion between them in an effort to score a payday from Sandusky, the Second Mile or Penn State, where two executives were accused by the grand jury of failing to properly report the abuse.

Marci Hamilton, an attorney for a 29-year-old man who is not part of the criminal case but who has sued Sandusky over abuse allegations, said she would have welcomed the opportunity to see sex-abuse victims stand up against their alleged abuser in court.

"This kind of a hearing could have helped them to understand the system, it could have helped them to understand there are other survivors standing up and they also could have the courage to stand up, and sadly, they're not going to get that opportunity to see these other survivors standing up for all of them," she said.

Ann O'Neill
    Lena Jakobsson

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