Hundreds of people braved below- freezing temperatures to witness a pretrial hearing for Jerry Sandusky, the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach accused of sexually abusing boys.
Judge Thomas Kistler, the knot of a red, white and blue necktie poking out from his overcoat, stood at the door to the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, today giving parking information to spectators who had won a lottery for seats in the courtroom.
More than 1,300 people had vied for 100 public spots, and the winners were lined up an hour before the 8:30 a.m. session began. The temperature was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius). Another 156 seats were set aside for reporters, with more rooms for the overflow. Megan Salgel, 23, came down from Penn State, where she is a senior, to watch the hearing.
“I think it’s really unfortunate circumstances,” Salgel said of the charges against Sandusky, who is accused of molesting 10 boys and faces more than 40 criminal counts. Salgel said her father, aunts, uncle and cousins all attended Penn State, where Sandusky, 67, worked for 30 years.
History lasted about five minutes, at the hearing to determine whether the case should be held over for trial.
Sandusky entered the courtroom with his attorney, Joseph Amendola, shortly before 8:30. The two men left the room followed by members of the prosecution team. When they returned, Amendola spoke to Judge Robert Scott, who announced that Sandusky was waiving his right to the hearing.
There were gasps in the courtroom, which quickly emptied. Reporters were told to remain seated while Sandusky and his family exited through a door behind the judge’s bench.
The streets around the 19th-century courthouse were cordoned off last night to accommodate 28 satellite-television trucks. Orange and black cables crisscrossed the street and cameras were arranged in a semi-circle on the courthouse lawn, pointed at a lectern with microphones.
State troopers, local police and sheriff’s deputies patrolled the streets and operated checkpoints at the courthouse.
Hundreds of journalists descended on this town of 6,000 people, 10 miles (16 kilometers) from State College, where Penn State is located and where Sandusky served as a defensive assistant under Joe Paterno, who was fired last month as the Nittany Lions’ head football coach. Paterno hasn’t been accused of criminal wrongdoing.
About 200 reporters were given credentials, according to Jim Koval of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. He said about 100 more technicians or other journalists showed up without seeking courtroom or overflow room seats.
On Nov. 5, Sandusky was charged with 40 counts involving eight boys. He was rearrested last week and charged with more crimes after two new accusers came forward. The charges include nine counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, each punishable by as much as 20 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty today in a waiver of arraignment, according to court records.
Beginning in November, state and local court, law- enforcement and emergency officials began planning for the hearing, according to Maxine Ishler, the Centre County court administrator. Local judges had recused themselves from the case. Kistler’s job was to oversee logistics such as parking, not legal matters, Ishler said.
The hearing today would have allowed Sandusky and his lawyer to confront and cross-examine his accusers. Eleven witnesses were scheduled to testify, Senior Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo told reporters on the courthouse lawn minutes after the proceeding.
Most of the witnesses were young men, waiting to explain what Sandusky allegedly did to them when they were enrolled in Second Mile, the charity for troubled and needy boys Sandusky founded, according to lawyers in the case.
Prosecutors allege Sandusky used Second Mile to recruit victims, befriending them and “grooming” them with gifts, trips to Penn State football games and money. The alleged victims ranged in age from 10 to 15 when the abuse occurred, according to court documents.
The accusers’ identities wouldn’t be publicly disclosed, said Ben Andreozzi, who represents a man identified only as Victim 4 in a grand jury report. His client had become “an extension of the Sandusky family,” so frequently did Sandusky take him to games and bring him home for overnight stays, Andreozzi said.
Victim 4, scheduled to go on first, was shaking nervously as he waited to testify, Andreozzi, said.
“I can’t believe they put us through this until the last second, only to waive the hearing,” Victim 4 said in a handwritten statement Andreozzi read to reporters.
“He was ready,” the lawyer said. “He would have been damaging.”
The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Sandusky, MJ- 49201-cr-0000636-2011, Magisterial District Court, Centre County.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com