Courts & Crime

Sandusky waives hearing, attorney vows 'fight to death'

Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach charged with sexually abusing boys, departs the Centre County Courthouse after waiving a preliminary hearing.
Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach charged with sexually abusing boys, departs the Centre County Courthouse after waiving a preliminary hearing. AP

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Two hours after Jerry Sandusky waived his right to a preliminary hearing in Centre County Court, his attorney vowed there would be no plea bargain, saying "This is a fight to the death."

After weeks of preparations for the preliminary hearing that included shutting most of the streets in downtown Bellefonte, holding a lottery to determine which of 1,339 people could claim fewer than 100 seats in the courtroom, and prosecutors preparing for the testimony of 11 witnesses, Sandusky’s preliminary hearing Tuesday began with the judge informing the court that Sandusky had decided to waive the hearing.

Sandusky had arrived shortly before 8 a.m. at the courthouse, accompanied by his attorney, Joseph Amendola, and his wife, Dorothy. By that point, about 100 reporters along with the members of the public were seated inside the courtroom, Another 100 or so reporters shouted questions at Sandusky as he entered the courtroom, but he did not respond.

As the hearing was about to begin, the judge held a sidebar conference with Amendola and Deputy Attorney General Joe McGettigan. Then Sandusky's decision to waive was announced.

As he left the courthouse, Sandusky said “we fully expect to put together the best defense we can ... we couldn’t do that today.”

The judge left bail conditions — including a requirement that Sandusky be on electronic monitoring and house arrested — unchanged. The next court date is Jan. 11, when Sandusky will be formally arraigned on the charges against him.

Prosecutors said they were taken by surprise by the decision, and had scheduled 11 witnesses to testify at the preliminary hearing, including Mike McQueary, the assistant coach who told the grand jury that he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a shower on campus in 2002 and reported that to football Coach Joe Paterno.

Amendola, in a news conference that began shortly before 10 a.m. outside the courthouse, said he and Sandusky made the decision the night before to waive the hearing. Sandusky is facing more than 50 charges that he sexually abused 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Prosecutors and attorneys representing some of the alleged victims said the decision spared those alleged victims the trauma of testifying. Some of the attorneys expressed hope that the decision indicated a plea bargain could be in the offing.

But Mark Costanzo, with the state Attorney General's Office, said there have been no discussions of a plea bargain. And Amendola said that would not happen.

“There will be no plea negotiations,” Amendola said. “This is a fight to the death.”

Amendola said the case against Sandusky will largely come down to a question of credibility — who is more believable — but that was not a factor that would have been considered at the preliminary hearing.

“Credibility is going to be the main factor in this case. We wouldn't have been able to address that today,” Amendola said.

Slade McLaughlin, who represents the person identified by an investigating grand jury as Victim 1, had earlier voiced the suspicion that the decision by Sandusky to waive the hearing" was not made this morning."

McLaughlin said his client was "resolute" and had been prepared to testify at the hearing.

A statement was released to the media by the person identified in the grand jury report as Victim 4. Calling this the most difficult time of his life, the alleged victim declared: "Regardless of the decision to waive, nothing has changed. I still will stand my ground and testify the truth."

State College Attorney Andrew Shubin, who said he is part of a legal team representing victims, also released a statement: “Given what we have learned from our investigation about the overwhelming evidence of Sandusky’s serial sexual abuse which spans decades, we are not surprised by Sandusky’s decision to waive the preliminary hearing,” it read. “It’s long past time for Sandusky to step up and accept responsibility for the devastation he has caused the victims, their families and our community. For today at least, the victims have avoided the trauma of having to publicly re-live their abuse.”

The media began gathering in Bellefonte Monday, and by 6 a.m. Tuesday, the Diamond in front of the courthouse in Bellefonte was a forest of light stands and camera stands as many of the 200 reporters who would gather there in the next hour delivered updates to their news organizations.

Generators hummed on trucks, and the Dairy Queen was lit up early, doing a brisk business serving coffee.

Bellefonte Area School District employees wearing red vests could be spotted along Allegheny Street, directing students walking to school.

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said things were going smoothly early in the morning. He later greeted with relief the news of Sandusky's decision to waive the hearing.

“It means an earlier day than we had planned," he said. "That’s extremely good news.”

First in line to get into the courtroom to occupy one of the seats allocated to the general public was Karen Maggie, of Montoursville. She said her husband and two sons all graduated from Penn State, and a third son is currently a sophomore there.

She, her husband and sons all put their names in for the lottery to determine who would be given seats in the courthouse. A total of 1,339 people applied, and she was the only member of her family to get a seat.

She said she’s interested in learning about the legal system.

“I thought it would be fascinating to see how it works,” she said.

Kathy Ulmer, assistant director of transportation for the Bellefonte school district, said things were going smoothly. She said she’s seen several families with children taking in the scene at the courthouse.

“I think it’s a different spectacle for Bellefonte, a different experience,” she said.

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