Sandusky Hearing Hitting Bellefonte

Media from around the world have descended upon the little borough for the former Penn State assistant's preliminary hearing on abuse charges.

Barring some 11th-hour wrangling, a legal spectacle the likes of which this area has never seen will unfold in little Bellefonte, Pa., Tuesday. Accused child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky will face a preliminary hearing at the historic Centre County Courthouse in the middle of the borough.

Media outlets from around the world have descended on Bellefonte, which, according to the most recent U.S. Census, is home to some 6,187 souls. Monday evening, work crews were already busy blocking off roads and re-directing traffic around the town square even as national news and sports networks were broadcasting live from various locations.

This against a backdrop of a place decorated for a “Victorian Christmas,” complete with a miniature “Santa's House” out in front of the Courthouse.

Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, stands accused of abusing 10 different boys. He faces more than 50 charges.

A told, 100 seats have been allocated to the media in the courtroom where the hearing will take place -- named, fittingly enough, Courtroom 1. Overflow seating for 100 more members of the press will be available in the nearby Annex Building, where the proceedings will be shown on a closed-circuit feed (though the feed is not available for networks to broadcast).

Reporters are not allowed to shoot video or photos in either room, nor can they use recording devises of any kind. Only a Monday-afternoon change in the media decorum rules allowed for reporters to Tweet, text or email live updates during the hearing. But member of the public may not Tweet, text or email.

So what exactly is going to happen Tuesday?

Here is a rough idea.

WHAT TIME DOES THE ACTION BEGIN? The hearing is slated to start at 8:30 a.m. But the logistics of getting everyone into the Courthouse on time -- media, 100 members of the public, attorneys, Sandusky, witnesses and support personnel -- could lead to delays. Everyone must go through a security screening checkpoint. Proceedings such as these are often delayed by discussions between the attorneys, too.

WHO IS IN CHARGE? That would be Senior Judge Robert Scott, who has been brought in from Westmoreland County to handle the proceedings.

WHAT IS A PRELIMINARY HEARING? According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, a preliminary hearing “is the first opportunity for both sides to present evidence and call witnesses before a judicial officer.” Long story short: the prosecution must prove to the judge that there is enough evidence for the case to move forward. Scott has the final say on whether the case will move forward.

WILL SANDUSKY TAKE THE STAND? Highly unlikely. According to the AOPC, the defense is “not required to do anything (at a preliminary hearing), but may cross examine witnesses and present evidence.” Remember, the preliminary hearing is more about the prosecution proving it has enough evidence for the case to move forward. In fact, the defense -- led by local attorney Joe Amendola -- may not call any witnesses Tuesday. Calling Sandusky would simply give the prosecution a chance to grill him under oath.

WHO WILL TAKE THE STAND? Prosecution witnesses. Most likely former PSU assistant coach Mike McQueary, who allegedly saw Sandusky abusing a boy in 2002, as well as many (if not all) of the alleged victims.

WHAT IS AT STAKE FOR SANDUSKY? If Scott finds there is not enough evidence to move the case forward, the charges will be dropped. However, if Scott determines that there is enough evidence to move it forward, the case then is “bound over” to common pleas or trial court. Sandusky would then face a formal arraignment before presiding Senior Judge John Cleland (brought in from McKean County), where he would have to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The simple fact that a case is bound over does not mean the accused if guilty of anything. Also, it should be noted that the judge may rule that certain charges stand and certain charges are dropped. It is not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition.

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE? Court officials seem to think the hearing will be wrapped up by the end of the day Tuesday. There figures to be a lunch break around noon and the judge can allow recesses at other times. Scott could render his decision at the end of the hearing or issue it at a later time.

-30-


Fight On State Top Stories