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Sandusky Waives Preliminary Hearing; Amendola Declares 'a Fight to the Death'

on December 13, 2011 12:13 PM

Jerry Sandusky waived his preliminary hearing Tuesday morning in Bellefonte, a move that his lead attorney called a tactical decision and "in no way" an admission of guilt.

The attorney, Joseph Amendola, reiterated that he has had no discussions about a plea agreement and will have no such conversations with the prosecution, led by the state attorney general's office. He said he expects a trial to take shape later in 2012. And he expressed no qualms with having it in Centre County.

"Jerry Sandusky maintains his innocence, and we're going to fight like hell for it," Amendola said in a lengthy press conference outside the county courthouse. He said that "we're going to attack the credibility (of witnesses) whichever way we can."

"This is a fight to the death," Amendola said, calling it "the fight of Jerry Sandusky's life." (Video from the press conference is posted here.)

He said Sandusky has formally entered a not-guilty plea and requested a jury trial.

Several hundred people, including about 200 journalists, had gathered in the courthouse and an adjacent annex space for what was expected to be an 8:30 a.m. hearing on Tuesday. Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach charged with 52 criminal counts, is accused of an extended pattern of child sexual abuse.

He and Amendola arrived in the assigned courtroom -- Courtroom No. 1 -- about 8 a.m. and immediately retreated to an adjacent meeting space.

The proceeding was called to order at 8:28 a.m. Almost immediately, District Judge Robert Scott announced that Sandusky had decided to waive the hearing. Quizzed by Scott, Sandusky said it was indeed his choice to waive the proceeding.

Sandusky will remain free on bail until his next court appearances, though he must remain on house arrest, wear an electronic monitoring device and not have unsupervised contact with young people, per an order reaffirmed by Scott.

Sandusky has already waived an arraignment scheduled for January 11, 2012, Amendola told reporters later. He said a pre-trial conference is expected in March.

Deputy State Attorney General Marc Costanzo said the preliminary-hearing waiver will prevent the alleged victims from testifying twice in open court -- a good thing for them, he added. He called the experience of testifying a painful and difficult one.

Alleged victims are expected to testify during the anticipated trial.

Eleven witnesses had been prepared to testify Tuesday, Costanzo said. And while he found the preliminary-hearing waiver surprising in light of earlier defense statements, he said, it was unsurprising given the strength of the case against Sandusky.

"If he (Sandusky) changes his mind at the last minute, that's his prerogative," Costanzo said.

Amendola said the decision to waive the hearing was reached Monday night. He cited several reasons for the move.

For one thing, he said, the preliminary hearing likely would not have afforded the defense an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses over credibility concerns. The prosecution indicated that it would have challenged any attempt by Amendola to undermine witness credibility during the hearing, he said.

But credibility will be a key issue for the defense, Amendola went on, citing in particular the varying witness accounts reported to have been provided by Mike McQueary. (The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported Sunday an apparent third version of events shared by McQueary, an assistant football coach at Penn State.)

Without the ability to cross-examine for credibility Tuesday, Amendola said, the event would have focused heavily on the prosecution's charges against Sandusky -- charges that would be rehashed repeatedly in news coverage.

Defense attorneys expected "nothing new coming out of this (hearing)" in terms of defense arguments, Amendola said. Preliminary hearings generally do not allow an opportunity for a criminal-defense team to provide its full arguments.

As part of the defense's hearing-waiver discussions with the prosecution, Amendola said, state prosecutors agreed not to raise their bail request or seek to have Sandusky immediately remanded to jail. The prosecution also assured the defense that a discovery phase in the case can begin earlier than it may have otherwise, Amendola said.

That discovery phase should allow the defense to access material such as the alleged victims' phone records, Amendola said. He raised the prospect that perhaps some of them could be seeking money.

"Do you realize that many of these young men already have civil attorneys" retained for possible civil proceedings? Amendola asked reporters, also raising the specter of possible collusion.

He said Sandusky had to formalize his hearing waiver in person Tuesday morning, but that the defense also wanted to use the opportunity to address the news media in a sweeping way, to outline strongly the case for the former Penn State football coach. About 20 family members and friends of Sandusky -- including his wife, Dottie Sandusky -- were in Courtroom No. 1 on Tuesday.

Amendola said he's being assisted in the defense effort by Karl Rominger, of Cumberland County.

Attorneys representing alleged victims in the case were varied in their reactions to the hearing waiver. In a prepared statement, State College lawyer Andrew Shubin said he wasn't surprised.

"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," Shubin said. "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."

Grand-jury presentments in the case list 10 alleged victims. The person identified as Victim No. 4, through an attorney, released a prepared statement, as well.

It reads in part: "I can't put into words how unbearable this has been all my life both physically and mentally. I can't believe they put us through this to the last second only to waive the hearing. ... I still will stand my ground to testify and speak the truth."

StateCollege.com will be posting more coverage Tuesday. Earlier and ongoing coverage is available via the page linked below.

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