The media was all dressed up with nowhere to go. The tiny town of Bellefonte, Pa., usually home to just over 6,000 people, was buzzing with activity and attention unprecedented for the sleepy locale. It’s understandable, then, that the bombshell announcement by Jerry Sandusky, the embattled Penn State coach facing more than 50 counts of child abuse, to waive his hearing caused quite a surprise.
By waiving the hearing, the case advances directly to a trial. And today’s move, while a surprise, was not unprecedented. Defense attorneys sometimes waive a hearing to avoid pre-trial publicity. According to the New York Daily News, Joseph Amendola, Sandusky’s attorney, had insisted on such a hearing. The reason for the hearing is to determine if there’s cause for a trial. Amendola noted that the bar was low for his client, as the case had already been through a grand jury.
Amendola said his defense team “wouldn’t have been able to provide a reasonable cross-examination” because they had no witnesses for their side. The testimony, then, would have been a repeat of the very-graphic grand jury report, which “really would have left us with the worst of all worlds.”
Sandusky, suited up and flanked by Amendola, appeared in court around 8 a.m. Tuesday morning. The trial began promptly at 8:30 with the decision to waive the hearing quickly announced. Within two minutes, the media and many of the onlookers had filed out, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Kris Maher, who was live-blogging the court appearance.
The preliminary hearing would have been the first time Sandusky’s accusers confronted him. In total, 11 alleged victims were expected to take the stand, along with Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, who allegedly witnessed the locker room abuse. But Sandusky and his legal team decided Monday night to waive today’s hearing, so most of the accusers didn’t show up at the courthouse. Attorneys said they were relieved the alleged victims wouldn’t have to endure the stress of a public testimony. “They have achieved the same result as they would have if they had to testify,” lawyer Michael Boni, representing one of the alleged victims, told CNN.
The accusers will have to testify at trial, though, unless the two sides reach a plea bargain before then. Slade McLaughlin, lawyer for “Victim 1,” says Sandusky’s waiving of a preliminary hearing seems to indicate they’re on their way to a plea bargain. “I think you’ll see this come to an end fairly quickly now,” McLaughlin said, according to USA Today. “This was their only chance to find out what kind of case the state had and they gave it up.” But Amendola quashed those rumors: “There will be no plea negotiations,” he said. “This is a fight to the death.”
Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo said the next step in the process is an arraignment scheduled for Jan. 11. But Sandusky will not have to show up next month. The charges will be levied against him and the trial date will be set.