Sandusky hearing has Centre County courthouse preparing for a deluge of attention

Jerry Sandusky: Crowd expected.
Jerry Sandusky: Crowd expected.
Posted: December 11, 2011

Jerry Sandusky's arrest on child sex-abuse charges five weeks ago unleashed a torrent of allegations, anecdotes, and outrage about the football coach, his conduct, and the people and institutions that might have enabled it.

This week could deliver something the case has been lacking: evidence.

On Tuesday, Sandusky faces a preliminary hearing in Centre County on charges that he raped or molested 10 boys since the 1990s, when he was the defensive coordinator for Joe Paterno at Pennsylvania State University.

One by one, most if not all of those young men are expected to walk to the witness stand in a packed courtroom in Bellefonte and describe, under oath, how Sandusky befriended them, mentored them, and then - in some cases, for years - abused them.

Three days later, two former university administrators, Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz, face a similar hearing in Harrisburg on charges that they covered up one of the assaults then lied to a grand jury about it.

The proceedings are in some ways a formality. None of the men will testify or present a defense. And only an unprecedented implosion by the witnesses is likely to prevent Senior Judge John M. Cleland from finding sufficient evidence to hold Sandusky for trial, legal experts say.

But both events, particularly Tuesday's daylong hearing, are expected to draw an international spotlight and could include moments of high drama.

For the first time since his Nov. 5 arrest, Sandusky will sit in the same room with the young men whose allegations have been detailed in two grand jury presentments.

Twice in recent weeks, the white-haired former coach has used interviews with national news outlets to proclaim his innocence, denying that he abused the boys he met through his youth charity, the Second Mile.

The hearing will also be a test for his lawyer, Joseph Amendola, who has echoed Sandusky's denials and blasted as "one-sided" the portrayals of his client and the case.

Amendola will not be allowed to attack the witness' credibility or question their backgrounds at the hearing, experts say.

But he can grill them on the facts and mine their testimony for inconsistencies. How aggressive - and effective - he is could lay the groundwork for his trial strategy.

"We will, for the very first time, have the opportunity to face Jerry's accusers and question them under oath about their allegations," Amendola said last week, before Sandusky was jailed on new charges. "We look forward to this opportunity."

It will also be the first public glimpse of the alleged victims, who have been identified in court filings only by numbers.

Still unclear is if they will be named in court. In some cases, particularly sex crimes involving juveniles, prosecutors may request that victims be allowed to testify anonymously in open court.

Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for state Attorney General Linda Kelly, would not discuss the issue Friday, saying it would be addressed at the hearing.

Michael Boni, a Bala Cynwyd lawyer for one accuser in the case, said he was told his client would not be be identified on the witness stand. "Their names are not going to be revealed," Boni said.

Boni, who, with Slade McLaughlin, represents the Clinton County teenager whose claims of abuse in 2008 started the investigation of Sandusky, said police were expected to escort the witnesses in and out of the proceeding. His client's mother and therapist also plan to attend, Boni said.

For Bellefonte, a Victorian hamlet and Centre County seat 10 miles north of State College, the event could be unrivaled. Every few years, the historic courthouse in the town square hosts a sensational trial, locals say.

But none has matched the intensity and scrutiny in this case, one that spurred Penn State trustees to fire Paterno, the legendary head coach, and university president Graham B. Spanier, for how they handled a 2002 report that Sandusky had had inappropriate contact with a young boy.

All other judges canceled or moved their proceedings from the courthouse for the day. Weeks ago, town officials began meeting to devise a traffic and parking plan for the dozens of satellite trucks and vehicles coming to town. Court administrators planned to issue 200 media credentials and set up a public lottery for the remaining seats.

"There's been nothing like this, nothing at all, even close," said Philip Masorti, a longtime defense lawyer in State College.

Hundreds are expected to fill the courtroom and an overflow room or ring the building for a glimpse of Sandusky or the victims, all under the watch of dozens of police officers, troopers, and sheriff's deputies.

Cameras and recording equipment are prohibited at the hearing, and the judge banned reporters from filing stories or dispatches from inside the courtroom. Last week, county workers were covering windows of Courtroom 1, the large, ornate courtroom where the hearing will occur, ostensibly to keep cameras or onlookers from peering in.

"The atmosphere there reminds me of what it must have been like in Normandy in May 1944," State College lawyer Amos Goodall said after visiting the courthouse. "Everyone knew an invasion was coming, and no one is sure how things are going to turn out."

The attorney general's office has remained largely silent about its plans for the preliminary hearings. Frederiksen said that the attorney general expected to say more Monday about the prosecution team, which includes former Philadelphia First Assistant District Attorney Joseph McGettigan.

Boni, the lawyer for the teenager identified in the grand jury report as Victim 1, said prosecutors told his client late last week what to expect at the hearing. Veteran trial lawyers said the attorney general's trial team was probably spending days refining plans and preparing the alleged victims for the spotlight.

"Any good prosecutor and any good defense lawyer is going to prep their witnesses," said Will Spade, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney. In this case, Spade said, "I'd do a lot because you've got the whole country looking at you."

Not everyone will be fixated on the hearing. Masorti, the State College lawyer, said he had no plans or desire to see it.

"I'm tired of it," he said. "It's a big, thick, ugly dark cloud over Happy Valley."


Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 215-854-4774, at jmartin@phillynews.com, or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

 

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