Sandusky Waived Hearing in Abuse Case After Last-Minute, Late-Night Talks
Jerry Sandusky’s lawyer and prosecutors negotiated late into last night to set the stage for the abbreviated preliminary hearing in the child sex-abuse case against the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach.
Sandusky, 67, waived his right to the hearing at the start of the 8:30 a.m. session today in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where some of his accusers were set to testify. He also waived an arraignment, pleading not guilty to more than 40 criminal counts related to the alleged molestation of 10 boys from 1994 to 2009. The decision was made at 10:30 p.m. yesterday after talks with prosecutors by phone, his attorney, Joseph Amendola, said in an interview.
Amendola said he got commitments from the prosecutors to expedite evidence sharing and to maintain bail terms in exchange for the waiver. The deal may backfire on the defense, a former prosecutor said. By choosing not to question the 11 witnesses set to testify today, Amendola and his client are forgoing valuable information they could use at trial.
“In a preliminary hearing, you have the right to confront your accusers, you have the right to cross-examine witnesses. It’s a very helpful and powerful tool for a trial lawyer,” said Jack McMahon, a former prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. “It doesn’t make sense to give up that important right.”
Sandusky was initially charged on Nov. 5 with crimes 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.
Prosecutors said Sandusky used Second Mile, a children’s charity he founded, to recruit victims, befriending them and “grooming” them with gifts, trips to football games and money. The alleged victims ranged in age from 10 to 15 when the abuse occurred, according to court documents.
Sandusky appeared nervous and tired at the start of court today. Amendola said his client was “exhausted.”
In addition to the evidence-sharing agreement, prosecutors said they wouldn’t amend Sandusky’s bail terms should any new charges arise, according to Amendola. Sandusky remains under house arrest after posting $250,000 bail.
“If there is a strategy here at all, it has to be that plea negotiations are already well under way,” said Wes Oliver, an associate law professor at Widener Law School’s Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, campus.
Oliver, who attended today’s hearing, dismissed Amendola’s explanation about evidence sharing. Prosecutors are already required to turn over documents at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing, Oliver said.
The agreement on bail was crucial for the defense, because it’s easier to represent a client who’s not in jail, said Karl Rominger, an attorney from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who is working with Amendola as a consultant. Talks stalled as both sides waited for the other to “blink first,” Rominger said.
“Last night both sides blinked,” he said.
There are no discussions of a plea deal, and Sandusky will proceed to trial, Senior Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo and Amendola said today. Sandusky’s next scheduled court date is a March 22 pretrial conference, according to the court website.
Amendola said his client wouldn’t attend. Sandusky left the courthouse with his family and some supporters, including past Second Mile participants, without speaking to reporters.
‘Relive the Horror’
“This is terrific for my client, all the other victims who did not have to relive the horror on the stand,” said Michael Boni, a lawyer for one of Sandusky’s accusers, identified in charging documents as Victim 1. Boni said his client was ready to testify.
Slade McLaughlin, who also represents Victim 1, said Sandusky was within his rights to waive the hearing.
“All it really did was shake up the victims,” he said.
Ben Andreozzi, an attorney for Victim 4, said his client was “nervous and shaking” before the hearing.
“Regardless of the decision to waive the hearing, nothing has changed,” Victim 4 said in a statement. “I will still stand my ground, testify and speak the truth.”
Victim 4, now 27, told the grand jury that Sandusky sexually assaulted him on several occasions in locker room showers in Penn State’s football practice building and at a local hotel where the Nittany Lions stayed before home games. He said he also attended the 1999 Alamo Bowl in Texas where Sandusky threatened to send him home when he resisted his advances, according to court documents.
Victim 1, now a high school student, told the grand jury that he met Sandusky through Second Mile in 2005 or 2006. He would often stay overnight at Sandusky’s residence where “back cracking” became a ritual that led to Sandusky performing oral sex on him more than 20 times from 2007 to early 2008, according to court documents.
Victim 1 broke off contact with Sandusky in 2008 and Sandusky called him more than 100 times between January 2008 and July 2009, according to the grand jury report.
The case against Sandusky led to the firings of university President Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno, whom Sandusky worked under for 30 years. Paterno and Spanier weren’t charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
Two other Penn State officials, athletic director Timothy Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz, were charged with perjury and failing to report allegations of child sex abuse against Sandusky. Both have denied the charges and are scheduled to appear in court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, this week.
“Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz look forward to the preliminary hearing to start the process of clearing their good names and demonstrating that they testified truthfully to the grand jury,” their attorneys, Caroline Roberto and Tom Farrell, said in an e- mailed statement.
Howard Janet, the lawyer for an accuser identified in the grand jury report as Victim 6, said his client “was here and prepared to testify.” He said the accuser and his mother wanted charges filed against Sandusky in 1998. Today was his client’s chance to tell his story, Janet said.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org