Law Expert: Sandusky Waiver Points to Potential Plea Deal
Moments before slipping into a black BMW SUV, a defiant Jerry Sandusky said Tuesday he fully intends "to put together the best possible defense and stay the course for four full quarters."
About an hour later, outside the local courthouse before live TV cameras, his attorney Joseph Amendola vowed that he has entertained no plea discussions in the sexual-abuse case, a move that victim advocates said could prolong anguish for months.
But while Amendola has declared no intent to strike a deal, he has shown a willingness in the past to veer from his stated course of action. As recently as Dec. 5, he was ready to proceed with the preliminary hearing and looked "forward to the opportunity to question all commonwealth witnesses who testify." The hearing never happened, of course, waived after a last-minute decision late Monday night.
Now some feel a plea may be imminent.
"The only tactical thing that makes sense here is that there is a plea in the works," said Wes Oliver, an associate professor at Widener University School of Law.
"My sense is, the only possible thing that could be going on is, at some hour very shortly before this hearing, everyone realized this case is not going to trial," he added.
Using past cases as a guideline, Oliver said the prosecution may offer a 10-year prison sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.
The defense may hope prosecutors will lessen penalties in exchange for Amendola's limiting witness exposure to courtroom cross-examination, said Oliver, a news analyst who watched the Tuesday proceeding from an adjacent annex.
Testifying in open court can be overwhelming given the nature of the alleged sexual abuse, said attorney Howard Janet. He represents the person identified as Victim 6 in a grand-jury presentment.
Killing the hearing on short notice amounts to "more abuse (illustrating) that the defendant and his lawyer don't care about heaping upon these kids," Janet said.
He and Ken Suggs, another attorney for the identified Victim 6, lashed out at the defense for questioning their client's credibility and not facing the accusers.
"Yeah, I'm calling him a coward," Suggs said of Sandusky. "Anybody that would abuse children like this is by definition a coward."
The hearing waiver squashed an opportunity for the public to hear from alleged victims in their own words.
Janet believes they would have demonstrated believability and sincerity "contrary to what has been out there by Sandusky and Amendola," he said.
Briefed by a prosecutor, attorney Slade McLaughlin said none of the 10 alleged victims actually arrived at the courthouse Tuesday. Upon learning the hearing would not take place, they were told they could return home, McLaughlin said.
He said the alleged victims were assembling in a location from which police would have transported them to court.
Now their stories may not be heard for months -- if the case goes all the way to trial. Amendola said he expects a trial to begin in summer or fall 2012.
"I think he's going to take some sort of plea at some point if the prosecution will give him something other than a trial," said McLaughlin, who represents the identified Victim 1. "He's not going to get much because the prosecution has a strong case. It's not like they're going to give him a slap on the wrist."