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12.13.11

Jerry Sandusky Surprises by Waiving Right to Preliminary Hearing

Just as his alleged victims were gearing up to testify against him, the ex-Penn State coach waived his right to a preliminary hearing and sped his case toward a trial. Plus, Michael Daly on Sandusky's missed shot at redemption.

Was the sight of his alleged victims—suited up and prepared to testify against him—just too much for Jerry Sandusky to bear?

That was the theory being floated by Kenneth Suggs, a lawyer for the young man identified in the grand jury report as “Victim 6,” moments after Sandusky waived his right to a preliminary hearing and sent reporters packing.

“I'm calling him a coward,” said Suggs.

On Tuesday, former assistant football coach Sandusky stunned a packed courtroom when he abruptly waived his right to a preliminary hearing, moving him toward a trial on 50 counts of sexual abuse stemming from the molestation scandal that has engulfed Penn State University.

The scene outside the courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., a small town of 6,000 that neighbors State College, was of flashing lights as dozens of reporters lined up for what everyone was expecting to be a long day of testimony. Streets had been blocked off to allow for crowds. Neighbors snapped photos. As many as 10 victims were supposed to testify.

But just after 8:30 am, Judge Robert Scott announced that there would be no hearing. The packed courtroom abruptly cleared.

Outside the courthouse, Slade McLaughlin, a lawyer for the man identified as "Victim 1," said he suspected that the waiver was a precursor to a plea deal.

But prosecutors said outside the courtroom that they have no indication of this from Sandusky's lawyer, Joseph Amendola.

Amendola told The Daily Beast before court Tuesday that "Jerry continues to maintain his innocence and will enter a plea of not guilty and request a jury trial later today." After the hearing, Amendola reiterated that there would be no plea deal. "This is a fight to the death," he said.

Waiving a preliminary hearing is not unusual in cases like Sandusky’s, lawyers say—often in an attempt to preserve victims from another traumatic experience. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for prosecutors to show that they have probable cause to bring the case to trial.

Nevertheless, the move caught many by surprise. “Once you’re all seated, in a case like this, with so much prep, it’s unusual,” a lawyer who represents one of the victims, asking not to be named, told The Daily Beast. “Victims were up last night preparing for this.”

Sandusky is due back in court on Jan. 11.

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