Sandusky Waives Right To Preliminary Hearing

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky appeared in court Tuesday. It was expected to be an emotional day as his alleged victims were slated to detail the sexual abuse. But Sandusky's attorney waived the preliminary hearing. The decision stopped the victims from telling their side of the story — for now.

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A highly anticipated court hearing in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case began this morning. It lasted just a few minutes. Sandusky, through his lawyer, waived his right to the hearing. He entered a plea of not guilty, and asked for a jury trial. The announcement stunned many who had come to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, to hear - for the first time - Sandusky's accusers tell their stories.

NPR's Tom Goldman was there; he has this report.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It was like a predawn invasion in Bellefonte, a town of about 6,000 people. An hour or so before the preliminary hearing's scheduled start, huge TV satellite trucks hummed in the darkness, in front of the county courthouse. Journalists, lawyers, and citizens who won seats in a lottery waited outside in the bitter cold.

Once inside courtroom one, the chattering crowd fell silent as Sandusky entered with his lawyer and sat down, facing the judge's bench. The white-haired Sandusky, wearing a dark suit, turned and smiled at his wife. She was part of a group of 20 family members and friends.

There was palpable tension. Sandusky faces more than 50 charges of child sexual abuse. It was expected that perhaps all 10 of his alleged victims would sit just a few feet in front of him, and testify about what they say he did to them when they were young boys.

But then his lawyer, Joe Amendola, asked to approach the bench. The judge announced Sandusky would waive his right to the hearing. Afterwards, outside, Slade McLaughlin, a lawyer for one of the alleged victims, was asked for his reaction.

SLADE MCLAUGHLIN: Shock, a little bit of outrage. He should have had the courtesy to give us all some notice of that so we didn't come here for this type of situation.

GOLDMAN: Beyond the courtesy issue, snide reporters wondered aloud whether the Sandusky legal team should pay hotel bills. Alleged victims' attorney Ken Suggs said not hearing the accusers testify was a missed opportunity for the people in attendance.

KEN SUGGS: They would see their demeanor, their sincerity, that these boys can be believed - contrary to what has been out there by Sandusky and Amendola.

JOSEPH AMENDOLA: Are you folks ready? I hope I'm not late.

GOLDMAN: Joe Amendola left the courthouse right after the announcement and then returned about a half-hour later, answering the question of the moment: Why? He said they waived the hearing as a tactical move. Amendola said it wasn't until late yesterday, after he met with prosecutors, that he realized he wouldn't be able to put on a good defense at the hearing.

AMENDOLA: We would have heard a recitation of the allegations without realistically being able to cross-examine the witnesses who testified, as to their credibility. And as all of you know, credibility is going to be the main factor in this case.

GOLDMAN: Amendola says he can attack witness credibility at trial, which he says could happen in the summer or fall of next year. He says there are no discussions about a plea deal, even though he acknowledges a grand jury still is investigating, and more accusers could come forward.

Amendola says Sandusky is depressed and devastated by the scandal, but Sandusky still maintains his innocence. Leaving the courtroom, the one-time revered defensive coordinator for Penn State put his situation in football terms.

JERRY SANDUSKY: Stay the course to fight for four quarters.

GOLDMAN: While Sandusky plans to fight for four quarters, at least one alleged victim is equally resolute. So-called Victim Four released a statement saying, in part: Regardless of the decision to waive the hearing, nothing has changed. I will still stand my ground, testify, and speak the truth.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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