BELLEFONTE, Pa. (WFAN/AP) — Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky opted against a preliminary hearing in his child molestation case, sparing his accusers from making their claims in a packed courtroom Tuesday but still vowing, in his attorney’s words, to “fight to the death.”
Sandusky’s attorney, Joseph Amendola, said the move was tactical, and he later told reporters outside the courthouse that the credibility of the witnesses would be a key issue. He said he believed some of the young men may have trumped up their claims and that others may came forward in a bid for monetary gain.
“There will be no plea negotiations,” Amendola said. “This is a fight to the death.”
Sandusky told reporters as he left the courthouse that he would “stay the course, fight for four quarters.” He says the defense would present their side later.
The decision, though unexpected, is not unusual in Pennsylvania.
At the hearings, prosecutors must show that they have probable cause to bring the case to trial. Prosecutors in this case were expected to meet that relatively low bar, in part because the case been through a grand jury.
The hearing was expected to last a day or more. Sandusky has denied the allegations against him, which led to the departures of longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the university president.
“This development we believe provides maximum protection to most importantly the victims in this case,” said Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo. “It avoids their having to testify for a second time. They will of course testify at a trial in the case.”
There have been no discussions about a plea bargain, Costanzo said. Sandusky’s next court appearance, an arraignment, is scheduled for Jan. 11. He remains under house arrest.
Michael Boni, a lawyer for one of the accusers, said he was encouraged by the development. The accusers “do not have to relive the horrors they experience up on the witness stand” by having to testify at the hearing and at trial.
Sandusky, in a dark suit, entered the county courthouse through the back door Tuesday with his wife, Dottie, at his side. He looked straight ahead, ignoring questions from reporters. Amendola followed him into the courthouse.
About 50 members of the media and 10 local residents, a few of them waiting with cameras to take pictures, awaited his arrival.
Witnesses have contended before the grand jury that Sandusky committed a range of sexual offenses against boys as young as 10, assaulting them in hotel swimming pools, the basement of his home in State College and in the locker room showers at Penn State, where the 67-year-old former assistant football coach once built a national reputation as a defensive mastermind.
At least five of the 10 accusers were set to testify during the hearing, according to CBS News’ Armen Keteyian.
“Can anyone ever be ready to testify in a public setting when the subject matter involves something like sexual abuse? He’s as ready as anyone can be,” lawyer Howard Janet told CBS News.
Amendola said Monday Sandusky was “looking forward to the opportunity to face his accusers.”
Last month Sandusky told NBC’s Bob Costas and The New York Times that his relationship to the boys who said he abused them was like that of an extended family. Sandusky characterized his experiences with the children as “precious times” and said the physical aspect of the relationships “just happened that way” and didn’t involve abuse.
Sandusky retired from Penn State in 1999, a year after the first known abuse allegation reached police when a mother told investigators Sandusky had showered with her son during a visit to the Penn State football facilities. Accusations surfaced again in 2002, when graduate assistant Michael McQueary reported another alleged incident of abuse to Paterno and other university officials.
The grand jury probe began only in 2009, after a teen complained that Sandusky, then a volunteer coach at his high school, had abused him.
Sandusky first groomed him with gifts and trips in 2006 and 2007, then sexually assaulted him more than 20 times in 2008 through early 2009, the teen told the grand jury.
Sandusky founded The Second Mile, an organization to help struggling children, in 1977, and built it into a major charitable organization, headquartered in State College with offices in other parts of Pennsylvania.
Two university officials have been charged with perjury and failure to report suspected abuse — athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz. Their preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday in Harrisburg.
Curley has been placed on leave and Schultz has returned to retirement in the wake of their arrests. The scandal brought down university president Graham Spanier and longtime coach Paterno, who was fired last month.
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