WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky appears determined to hold out for a trial on child sexual abuse charges that could put him in prison for the rest of his life, legal experts said.
Sandusky could face some of his accusers for the first time at a preliminary hearing set for Tuesday to determine if there is enough evidence to hold him for trial. Court records show that six witnesses have been subpoenaed for the hearing and legal experts said some of those likely would be accusers.
Sandusky has maintained his innocence on 52 counts of sexually molesting 10 boys. A celebrated football coach at Penn State for decades, his arrest a month ago and the fallout have damaged the reputation of Pennsylvania State University and focused national attention on the problem of child abuse.
So many media applied to attend the preliminary hearing in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, that a special credentialing system was set up. The court on Tuesday will not hear a plea of guilty or not guilty, which will come at a later arraignment.
Soon after Sandusky was first charged on November 5, his attorney, Joe Amendola, mused in media interviews about a plea agreement. He has since rejected that.
Experts said the 67-year-old former coach may believe he has nothing to lose with a high-profile trial given the battery of accusations against him.
“Unless he decides he just wants to stop fighting it, I don’t see what’s in it for Sandusky to plead guilty,” said Christopher Mallios, an adviser to AEquitas, a resource group for sex crimes prosecutors.
Sandusky has already laid out his potential defense, saying in an interview with Bob Costas of NBC television that he engaged in horseplay with alleged victims but stopped short of sexual intercourse or penetration, Mallios said.
“Now that he’s said that, unless he recants or retracts that statement, that sort of locks him into that defense at trial,” he said.
Legal analysts were baffled why Sandusky gave the interview, especially his rambling answer to the simple question whether he was attracted to boys.
Jeffrey Lindy, a Philadelphia attorney, said prosecutors often offered to drop charges in preliminary hearings, but that would not happen on Tuesday.
“I would assume there is no point in negotiating anything. The commonwealth (of Pennsylvania) is going to go full bore,” said Lindy, who is a defense attorney in the sex abuse case involving the Catholic Church hierarchy in Philadelphia.
Sandusky faces grand jury charges he molested the boys over a 15-year period and met them through The Second Mile, a charity he founded.
The accusations raised questions about how he could have gone for so long allegedly abusing boys without being detected.
The scandal led to the firing of longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier, who were told about a 2002 incident involving Sandusky and a boy in a shower at a Penn State locker room and did not report it to police.
Sandusky, who retired in 1999, is out of jail on $250,000 bond and is confined to his house by electronic monitoring. If convicted on all 52 counts, he could be sentenced to more than 500 years in prison.
Mallios, a former Philadelphia sex crimes prosecutor, said it would be six to 18 months before the trial began, a normal length of time in such cases.
“There is a lot that has to happen between now and then,” he said, such as pretrial hearings that could determine whether the cases are heard separately or consolidated.
Additional reporting by David Warner in Philadelphia; Editing by Greg McCune and Peter Cooney