Quiet Pa. town center stage for Sandusky faceoff

By Maryclaire Dale

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 12 2011 5:51 p.m. MST

The Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., is shown Monday, Dec. 12, 2011. Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, charged with sexually abusing boys, is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing at the courthouse Tuesday.

Matt Rourke, Associated Press

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A sleepy country town better known for fly fishing than courtroom drama takes center stage Tuesday for a face-to-face encounter between a disgraced Penn State coach and the young men who say he sexually assaulted them as children in showers and campus locker rooms.

Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, will confront at least six accusers who claim that he violated their innocence and preyed on their weakness, using a charity that was inspired by a biblical parable.

Sandusky, 63, is charged with more than 50 counts of child sex-abuse involving 10 boys he met through the children's charity he founded. A judge will decide if prosecutors have enough evidence to send the case to a trial.

The defense often waives preliminary hearings, although it can also use the opportunity to  cross-examine witnesses and explore their credibility.

But Sandusky's lawyer, Joe Amendola, said Monday his client welcomes the hearing.

"We plan to proceed with Jerry's hearing, and Jerry is looking forward to the opportunity to face his accusers," Amendola said. He said there had been no plea negotiations before the hearing.

He would only say, "Maybe," when asked if he would call Sandusky to testify.

The drama will unfold in a quiet, central Pennsylvania town of just over 6,000 with Victorian homes and fly fishermen, in a courthouse framed by 26-foot columns built in the 1830s. Lawyers, probation officers and clerks went about their business on Monday while an official numbered spots on the sidewalk outside court for network news vans. Barricades were piled neatly on the courthouse lawn, while lighting equipment was stored behind the veterans' memorial nearby.

A lawyer for one of the teenagers scheduled to testify bristled at Sandusky's description of the encounters as childplay, or "horsing around."

"My client said, 'There's nothing fun about what happened with me,'" Slade McLaughlin said last week, adding that he believes the Penn State scandal has unleashed "a watershed moment" in the understanding of child sexual abuse.

At least six of the accusers are expected to testify at the hearing, which could last two days.

Last month Sandusky told NBC's Bob Costas 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.

Sandusky retired as Penn State's longtime defensive coordinator in 1999, a year after the first known abuse allegation reached police. Penn State fired football coach Joe Paterno last month, saying he didn't do enough to investigate allegations against Sandusky.

In 1998 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 Michael 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.

The two university officials charged with perjury and failure to report abuse — former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz — face a preliminary hearing Friday in Harrisburg.

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