Sandusky Waives Preliminary Hearing

His attorney insists the move is not a prelude to a plea deal for the former Penn State assistant who stands accused of abusing boys.

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Jerry Sandusky was set to face a preliminary hearing on child sex abuse charges here Tuesday morning. And the public was anxious to hear what his accusers had to say.

More than 200 people packed Courtroom 1 at the Centre County Courthouse, including five members of the former Penn State assistant football coach's family. Satellite trucks lined the streets of the bucolic borough. Police were everywhere, including snipers on the roofs of the Courthouse and nearby buildings.

But 15 minutes before the hearing was set to begin, defense attorney Joe Amendola and Sandusky met with the prosecution in a room behind the bench. Once the hearing started, Amendola immediately asked for a sidebar with Senior Magisterial District Judge Robert Scott.

Seconds later, Amendola announced that Sandusky was waiving his right to a preliminary hearing. The case will proceed to the Court of Common Pleas. Sandusky has already entered a not-guilty plea and as such will not have to attended a Jan. 11 arraignment.

Amendola took exception to suggestions that waiving the hearing was a sign Sandusky was ready to negotiate a plea bargain.

“There will be no plea negotiation,” Amendola said. “This is a fight to the death. This is the fight of Jerry's life.”

On his way out of court, Sandusky told reporters, "We fully intend to put together the best possible defense and stay the course for four full quarters."

Sandusky is accused of sex abuse against 10 boys. There are more than 50 charges against him.

At preliminary hearings in Pennsylvania, the defense must prove it has enough evidence for charges to be bound over to trial. Amendola said the burden of proof is so small and the chance for defense attorneys to attack prosecution witnesses is so limited that the “tactical” decision was made to forego the preliminary hearing and instead focus on a trial.

By doing so, he bypassed the opportunity to question defense witnesses in advance of the trial.

“It was a close call, probably 51-49,” Amendola said afterward, while standing before a bank of cameras in front of the Courthouse. “We debated that, we really considered that aspect. We felt that we were giving that part of our case up, but we were getting something in return. And what we were getting in return was not rehashing the allegations on tonight's newscast without really having the ability to test credibility (of witnesses).”

The prosecution has also agreed to expedite discovery and, according to Amendola, allow Sandusky to turn himself in (as opposed to being arrested at his home) should further charges be filed against him.

As part of the agreement to waive the hearing, Sandusky will remain out of jail on $500,000 cash bond. However, he is still considered to be under house arrest (and must wear a monitoring anklet) and adhere to strict rules regarding contract with children and alleged victims.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo said the agreement will prevent witnesses from having to testify twice.

“The waiver means that the victims in the case, although they were ready to testify today, will not testify and will not be cross-examined at this time,” Costanzo said.

Slade McLaughlin, an attorney for alleged “Victim No. 1” in the case, said the last-minute waiver was, “Surprising, shocking.”

“You look around here, you see hundreds of people and (expensive) equipment,” he added. “I can't believe this is a decision that was made just this morning. This had to be a decision that was made last evening, at least. I think they could have given everyone the courtesy of sparing all of this by letting everyone know ahead of time it's not going to go down.”

McLaughlin said his client was prepared to testify Tuesday and will testify if and when the case goes to trial. But he was skeptical it would get that far.

“My own gut feeling is that there's going to be a plea deal,” he said. “I don't think Joe Amendola would have given up the opportunity to sit with these witnesses … hear what they have to say, assess them as witnesses and be able to use some of this testimony in cross examination at trial. You don't give up that right if you have an intent to go to trial.”

Amendola said he told prosecutors of his plan to waive the preliminary hearing Monday night. But since the actual waiver could not be signed until court opened Tuesday morning -- and Sandusky could have changed his mind at any time -- the prosecution had to proceed as planned, including having witnesses who were prepared to testify.

Sandusky, dressed in a back suit and maroon tie, entered Courtroom 1 through the same entrance the public used. After meeting with Amendola in a room behind the bench, he emerged briefly before the aforementioned meeting with the prosecution took place.

Shortly before the hearing began, Sandusky took his chair at the defendant's table. Hunched over in his seat, he did not seem to realize his family had entered the room. When Amendola told him, Sandusky turned to his wife, Dottie, and smiled.

Amendola met with the family for a minute or so before the proceedings started.

Later, when talking to the media in the extended press conference outside the Courthouse, Amendola insisted time and again that there would be no plea deal. He also took repeated shots at Mike McQueary, the former PSU football coach who, as a graduate assistant for the program in 2002, allegedly saw Sandusky molesting a boy in a shower at the Lasch Football Building on campus.

It is believed McQueary was scheduled to testify Tuesday, as well.

Amendola said McQueary “was the Commonwealth's centerpiece,” but that apparent inconsistencies between his grand jury testimony and recent stories that have come out have made him less important.

“What's his motive? I don't know,” Amendola said. “We'll find out. But we don't need to find out today because we have enough inconsistencies at this point to totally wipe him off the case.”

McQueary has yet to comment publicly on the Sandusky scandal. But he is expected to be a witness at the preliminary hearings for former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz in Dauphin County Friday. Both men are charged with perjury for allegedly lying to the grand jury investigating Sandusky.

Besides his wife, four of Sandusky's six adopted children were at the hearing. Included were sons E.J. and Jon, both of whom played football at Penn State.

The family seemed to be in good spirits while in the courtroom, as several said hello to a reporter they knew.

Amendola said Sandusky probably will not be back in a courtroom until a trial starts. He estimated that happening in late summer or early fall of 2012.

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