By Mark Scolfordo and Maryclaire Dale/The Associated Press
BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky opted against forcing his accusers to make their claims of child sex abuse in a packed courtroom Tuesday but then took his case to the courthouse steps as his lawyer assailed the credibility of the alleged victims and witnesses.
“There will be no plea negotiations,” defense lawyer Joseph Amendola said. “This is a fight to the death.”
Waiving such a preliminary hearing is not unusual but it was unexpected in this case: Amendola repeatedly had said his client was looking forward to facing his accusers. Afterward, he called the cancellation a “tactical decision” to prevent the men from reiterating the same claims they made to the grand jury.
Lawyers for the alleged victims said some were relieved they would not have to make their claims in public before a trial, but others said they had steeled themselves to face Sandusky and were left disappointed.
“It would have been apparent from watching those boys and their demeanor that they were telling the truth,” said Howard Janet, a lawyer for a boy whose mother contacted police in 1998 after her son allegedly showered with Sandusky.
Sandusky has denied the allegations, which led to the departures of longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the university president. He is charged with more than 50 counts that accuse him of sexually abusing 10 boys over the span of 12 years.
Amendola said he believed some of the young men may have trumped up their claims and that others may came forward in a bid to make money by suing Sandusky, Penn State and the charity Sandusky founded.
“We’re pursuing a financial motivation,” Amendola said, “Finances and money are great motivators.”
Michael Boni, a lawyer representing an accuser known as Victim 1, said Amendola was “reaching into his bag of tricks.”
“I can tell you that Victim No. 1 is credible. He was the first one to come forward,” he said.
Sandusky told reporters as he left the courthouse that he would “stay the course, to fight for four quarters” and “wait for the opportunity to present our side.”
His decision to waive the hearing is not unusual. At the hearings, prosecutors must show that they have probable cause to bring the case to trial. Prosecutors in this case were expected to meet that relatively low bar, in part because the case been through a grand jury.
Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo said the move “provides maximum protection to most importantly the victims in this case.”
“It avoids their having to testify for a second time,” Costanzo said. “They will of course testify at a trial in the case.”
Costanzo also said there had been no discussions about a plea bargain.
Sandusky’s next court appearance, an arraignment, is scheduled for Jan. 11. He remains under house arrest.
The accusers who were prepared to testify were split in their reactions to the hearing being canceled.
Boni said he was encouraged that the accusers “do not have to relive the horrors they experience up on the witness stand” by having to testify at the hearing and at trial.
Ben Andreozzi, a lawyer representing another accuser, read a statement from his client, who called it the most difficult time of his life.
“I can’t believe they put us through this until the last second,” the statement read. “I still will stand my ground, testify and speak the truth.”
Ken Suggs, another attorney for one of the accusers, called Sandusky a “coward” for not facing the young men.
Witnesses have contended before the grand jury that Sandusky committed a range of sexual offenses against boys as young as 10, assaulting them in hotel swimming pools, the basement of his home in State College and in the locker room showers at Penn State, where the 67-year-old former assistant football coach once built a national reputation as a defensive mastermind.
Sandusky has told NBC and The New York Times that his relationship to the boys who said he abused them was like that of an extended family. Sandusky characterized his experiences with the children as “precious times” and said the physical aspect of the relationships “just happened that way” and didn’t involve abuse.
Amendola said Sandusky was always emotional and physical — “a loving guy, an affectionate guy” — who never did anything illegal. The lawyer likened Sandusky’s behavior to his own Italian family in which “everybody hugged and kissed each other.”
Sandusky retired from Penn State in 1999, a year after the first known abuse allegation reached police when a mother told investigators Sandusky had showered with her son during a visit to the Penn State football facilities. Accusations surfaced again in 2002, when graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported another alleged incident of abuse to Paterno and other university officials.
The grand jury probe began only in 2009, after a teen complained that Sandusky, then a volunteer coach at his high school, had abused him.
Sandusky first groomed him with gifts and trips in 2006 and 2007, then sexually assaulted him more than 20 times in 2008 through early 2009, the teen told the grand jury.
Amendola on Tuesday attacked McQueary by citing an anonymously sourced newspaper report that claimed the former graduate assistant changed his story when speaking to a family friend. The defense attorney said McQueary would derail the prosecution and other accusers also would be questioned.
“McQueary was always the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case,” he said.
Sandusky founded The Second Mile, an organization to help struggling children, in 1977, and built it into a major charitable organization, headquartered in State College with offices in other parts of Pennsylvania.
Two university officials have been charged with perjury and failure to report suspected abuse — athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz. Their preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday in Harrisburg.
Curley has been placed on leave and Schultz has returned to retirement in the wake of their arrests. The scandal brought down university president Graham Spanier and longtime coach Paterno, who was fired last month.
Associated Press writer Genaro C. Armas in Bellefonte contributed to this story.