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Prelim Primer: What Tuesday's Sandusky Hearing Will Hold

by on December 11, 2011 2:30 PM

Jerry Sandusky, charged with 52 criminal counts, is due in Centre County Court on Tuesday for a preliminary hearing.

The proceeding in the child-sexual-abuse case is a standard step in the Pennsylvania court process.

But just what exactly is a preliminary hearing? Who is likely to appear?

Here's an overview of the process that will unfold Tuesday in Bellefonte:

  • Q: What is a preliminary hearing?
  • A: A preliminary hearing is not a trial; it does not involve a jury. Rather, it's a legal proceeding in which the prosecution in a criminal case presents evidence, often including live testimony, to try to illustrate that a person most likely committed a crime or crimes. A judge presiding at the hearing listens to the evidence -- from both the prosecution and the defense -- and weighs whether there's enough evidence to send each criminal charge in the case to trial.
  • Q: What might happen?
  • A: Preliminary hearings in such cases can yield several different outcomes: The judge may rule there's ample cause to send the case -- or some portion of the case -- to trial. The judge may rule there is not probable cause to send the case to trial, and dismiss the case -- or some portion of it. Defendants facing preliminary hearings also may waive the initial proceeding or enter a guilty plea, though, in the Sandusky case, neither of those possibilities appears at all likely.
  • Q: Who will testify and why?
  • A: Each of the 10 alleged victims listed in grand-jury presentments in the case may supply testimony as each side -- the prosecution and the defense -- attempts to build a case. Lawyers in the case have not confirmed formally how many people will testify during the hearing, though ABC News reported Dec. 6 that eight alleged victims were expected to offer testimony in support of the prosecution. (That was before two more alleged victims were added to a grand-jury report.)
  • Q: How long will the hearing last?
  • A: Because of the number of charges Sandusky faces and the potential for multiple alleged victims to testify during the hearing, the proceeding is expected to last much of the day. Centre County Sheriff Denny Nau said officials are planning for it to last one day, regardless if that means proceeding late into the night, according to a Dec. 7 Centre Daily Times report.
  • Q: Can I see the hearing on TV or read a transcript?
  • A: Pennsylvania law prohibits broadcasting inside from its courtrooms. News reporters allowed to attend the hearing have been ordered to halt all electronic communication while they're inside the main courtroom and a secondary courtroom during the event. Mainstream media are expected to have extensive coverage of the proceedings as soon as they're able to distribute information, likely during recesses or breaks at the hearing. An official court transcript from the hearing will be posted on the Centre County government website once it's approved by involved parties. That transcript may not appear for some days after the hearing, court officials have said.

As for the mainstream media, as many as 200 journalists are expected to cover the proceedings directly. They'll be split between the courtroom where the hearing will be held -- Courtroom No. 1 in the Centre County Courthouse -- and an adjacent satellite courtroom where a live, closed-circuit feed will be available. About 100 members of the public are expected to attend, as well; they were chosen through a lottery process. A virtual tour of Courtroom No. 1 is available via

  • Q: Who from Penn State is expected to appear at this preliminary hearing?
  • A: In the Dec. 7 CDT report, Sandusky's attorney, Joe Amendola, said he expects Mike McQueary to testify. If McQueary testifies, it would attract a whirlwind of attention, coming on the heels of a new Harrisburg Patriot-News report. The report says the Penn State assistant coach shared with a family friend some details about an alleged 2002 shower rape that are different from those he provided to the grand jury and police. 

Because the preliminary hearing will be centered on the sexual-abuse charges against Sandusky, it does not appear likely that those accused in an alleged cover-up will participate in the gathering. Former Penn State administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, charged with perjury and failure to report, will have their own, separate preliminary hearings Friday in Dauphin County. Their hearings will be held there -- and not in Centre County -- because they are alleged to have perjured themselves before a grand jury in Dauphin County. Prosecutors have alleged that Curley and Schultz failed to call proper attention to concerns about Sandusky and provided false information to the grand jury investigating the matter. Curley and Schultz, through their attorneys, have said they are innocent. Sandusky has said that he, too, is innocent.

  • Q: What is the next step?
  • A: If the judge -- District Judge Robert E. Scott -- agrees to send the Sandusky case, or part of the Sandusky case, to trial, a trial date will be scheduled. If he chooses to toss the charges, that could mark the end of the case against Sandusky -- at least the criminal claims against him. If the charges are ordered to trial, Sandusky could attempt some kind of plea agreement with the prosecution; such an agreement, if reached, could prevent a trial.

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Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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