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Sandusky prepared to fight child rape charges, attorney says

From Ann O'Neill and Lena Jakobsson, CNN
updated 6:53 PM EST, Tue December 13, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jerry Sandusky declares his innocence in plea
  • "We're going to fight like hell for him," Sandusky's lawyer says
  • Sandusky waived what would have been a "one-sided" preliminary hearing, lawyer says
  • The former coach faces more than 50 counts involving the alleged sexual molestation

Bellefonte, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is accused of sexually abusing boys, remains "totally prepared and committed to proving his innocence" after waiving his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday, his attorney said.

"We're ready to defend. We've always been ready to defend," attorney Joe Amendola said outside the Centre County Courthouse after the hearing. "Today's waiver has nothing to do with conceding anything. There have been no plea negotiations. There will be no plea negotiations. This is a fight to the death. This is the fight of Jerry Sandusky's life."

Prosecutors had been prepared to put 11 witnesses on the stand Tuesday, including some of the young men who accuse Sandusky of sexually abusing them while they were children and teenagers.

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The former coach faces more than 50 counts related to allegations of sexual molestation revealed in a grand jury report last month. He is accused of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, among other charges.

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Sandusky also waived a scheduled January 11 arraignment after entering a not guilty plea on the charges against him and requesting a jury trial, Amendola said.

Sandusky's $250,000 bail on the child rape and other charges will remain in place, Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo said. The former coach will remain under house arrest and was ordered not to have any contact with minors, the prosecutor said.

During the hearing, Amendola said his client intended to waive his right to a preliminary hearing. After Magistrate Judge Robert Scott asked Sandusky whether he understood that he was waiving certain rights, the former coach said he did.

When the hearing ended, the crowd in the courtroom broke out in chatter, prompting Scott to admonish the spectators. Onlookers who had packed the old courthouse reacted with surprised looks when they heard that the long-anticipated encounter between Sandusky and his accusers would not happen.

About 20 people attended the hearing in support of Sandusky, Amendola said, including his wife, some of their children and some graduates of the Second Mile charity program, which Sandusky founded and from which prosecutors allege he groomed boys for subsequent abuse.

Costanzo said Sandusky's decision to waive the hearing was a welcome surprise to prosecutors. It spared Sandusky's accusers from having to recount their stories on the witness stand Tuesday, although they would still have to testify at trial, he said.

Michael Boni, the attorney for one of the men mentioned in the grand jury report, said he had not talked with his client but expected that all the accusers were probably relieved at not having to take the stand to graphically recount the abuse they say Sandusky inflicted on them.

"They have achieved the same result as they would have if they had to testify," Boni said.

Tuesday's preliminary hearing could have offered the first glimpse of what the accusers have to say beyond what was contained in the grand jury's initial 28-page presentment. Two other accusers have since come forward.

But Amendola said he and Sandusky decided Monday night to waive the hearing after prosecutors agreed to not increase bail. Amendola said he and Sandusky concluded that the defense team would have had scant opportunity to question prosecution witnesses, turning the hearing into little more than a recitation of graphic allegations with little or no rebuttal.

"Today was a small part of this legal process," Amendola said. "It's a part that would have been very one-sided.

"Jerry Sandusky maintains his innocence, and we're going to fight like hell for him," Amendola said.

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CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said testimony by Sandusky's accusers would have "produced a cascade of damaging pretrial publicity."

"This is fairly uncommon, but it's probably a smart move by Sandusky's attorney," he said. "A waiver of the hearing avoids that publicity. I'd say the waiver of the hearing raises the chance of a plea deal, but it's not a guarantee by any means that there will be a plea bargain."

The hearing had sparked a media event the likes of which this quaint borough, population 6,200, has never seen.

Bellefonte, the Centre County seat, is about a dozen miles from State College, home to Penn State -- the location of many of the alleged crimes.

Hundreds of journalists descended on the courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its 26-foot white columns, marble stairs, clock tower and Christmas garland hung like bunting, it seems torn from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator for Penn State University's football team, is accused of molesting boys he met through the Second Mile. He has denied the allegations in interviews with NBC's Bob Costas and The New York Times.

He has acknowledged showering and "horsing around" with boys and said he is attracted to children but not sexually.

Amendola said Sandusky's defense team will seek to challenge the credibility of the accusers in any way possible, including investigating possible collusion among them in an effort to score a payday from Sandusky, the Second Mile or Penn State, where two executives have been accused by the grand jury of failing to properly report the abuse.

Amendola said it would be "naive" to think that university officials had responded to reports that Sandusky was "having anal sex with a 10-year-old-looking kid in a shower room on Penn State property and their response was simply to tell Sandusky, 'Don't go in the shower anymore with kids.' "

To anyone who might believe that, he said, "I suggest you dial 1-800-REALITY, because that makes absolutely no sense."

But here's the recorded message CNN got when it called that number: "Hey, guys, welcome to the hottest place for triple-X action. Get ready for bulging, bursting pleasure with horny, gay, bi and bi-curious studs. Just 99 cents per minute."

It adds, "You must be over 18."

Asked whether he knew that the number was for a phone sex service, Amendola said, "Oh, really? You're kidding. That's hilarious. I had no idea. I've been using that joke for years."

Marci Hamilton, an attorney for a 29-year-old man who is not part of the criminal case but who has sued Sandusky over abuse allegations, said she would have welcomed the opportunity to see alleged sex-abuse victims stand up to their alleged abuser in court.

"This kind of a hearing could have helped them to understand the system. It could have helped them to understand there are other survivors standing up and they also could have the courage to stand up, and sadly, they're not going to get that opportunity to see these other survivors standing up for all of them," she said.

In a separate legal action, 34 Penn State students have been charged and seven more arrests were pending related to violence that erupted November 9 when the school's board of trustees announced that it had fired head football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier in the wake of the scandal, police said.

Seven of the students were charged with rioting with the intent to commit felony and criminal mischief. Six of them were arraigned Monday and one Tuesday, said Lt. Keith Robb of the State College Police Department.

Most of the students and non-students were charged with misdemeanors for disorderly conduct and failure to disperse.

Videos shot that night show hundreds of students gathering around a WTAJ news truck, throwing rocks at the vehicle and then pushing it onto its side. Police are then seen dispersing the crowd with pepper spray. The TV station estimated the damage to the vehicle at $180,000.

CNN's Jason Carroll, Chris Boyette and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

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