BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky stunned a packed courtroom and backed out of a preliminary hearing at the last minute Tuesday, avoiding a face-to-face confrontation with accusers who his lawyer said were just trying to cash in by making up stories of child sex abuse.
Sandusky, who came to court with alumni from the charity he's accused of using to lure victims, vowed to "stay the course, to fight for four quarters" and make his case on another day.
His lawyer, Joe Amendola, then spoke before dozens of news cameras on the courthouse steps for an hour, saying the of 10 young men who accuse Sandusky of molesting them as children were just out to profit from civil lawsuits against the coach and Penn State.
A prosecutor said 11 witnesses, most of them Sandusky's alleged victims, were ready to testify at the hearing.
An attorney for one called Sandusky a "coward" for not hearing his accusers' testimony and derided the arguments that they were out for money, saying many were too old to sue Sandusky under Pennsylvania's statute of limitations.
"It makes my blood boil," said Harrisburg lawyer Ben Andreozzi, who read a statement by his client, identified in a grand jury report as Victim 4, who was said to have become a fixture at one point in the Sandusky household.
"All the money in the world isn't going to bring them back to where they were before the sexual assaults."
Sandusky 67, faces 52 criminal counts for what a grand jury called a series of sexual assaults and abuse of 10 boys dating back to the 1990s, in hotel swimming pools, the basement of his home in State College and in the locker room showers at Penn State, where he coached football until his retirement in 1999.
The charges devastated the university and its storied football program and led to the departures of coach Joe Paterno, the university's president and two administrators charged with lying to a grand jury and failing to report the suspected abuse.
Amendola told reporters Tuesday that Sandusky is an emotional, physical man — "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."
The lawyer accused the unidentified victims of seeking to cash in through false accusations and said the preliminary hearing would not have allowed him to delve into the witnesses' credibility.
Amendola said he decided to waive the preliminary hearing late Monday after concluding that the evidence would be one-sided, and after prosecutors agreed to give early warning if if Sandusky would face further charges and not to raise his $250,000 bail.
A prosecutor's spokesman said that Sandusky's bail conditions were adequate, but made no other promises.
"Sandusky waived his rights today. We waived nothing," said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office.
Amendola and state prosecutors confirmed that no one had started plea bargain talks.
"This is a fight to the death," Amendola said.
Sandusky also waived a January arraignment, and indicated in court papers that he intended to plead not guilty. A pretrial conference was set for March.
"If he wants to change his mind at the last minute, that's his prerogative," senior deputy attorney general E. Marc Costanzo said.
Veteran Pittsburgh defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said waiving the hearing was not surprising — because the prosecution's burden of proof is much lower than at trial, and because the longer a witness waits to testify, the more cynical a jury might be.
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