Jerry Sandusky vows to fight the child sex-abuse charges. NBC's Michelle Franzen reports.
BELLEFONTE, Penn. -- Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach at the center of a child sex abuse case, waived his preliminary hearing Tuesday in a surprise decision that allowed him to avoid facing his accusers and moves him toward a trial.
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."
Added Sandusky's lawyer, Joseph Amendola, "We couldn't do that today."
Audible gasps were heard when the announcement of the waiver was made in the courtroom in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles from the Penn State campus in State College.
At preliminary 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 has been through a grand jury.
Sandusky has denied the allegations, which led to the departures of longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the university president. He has been accused of 52 charges of sexual abuse over the span of 12 years involving 10 boys.
"We are not in any way conceding guilt. Today's decision was a tactical measure," Amendola told reporters outside the courtroom.
None of the accusers were at the courthouse Tuesday morning, having heard news of the defense waiver before coming in, a court source told NBC News. Eleven witnesses were prepared to testify on Tuesday, NBC's Michael Isikoff reported.
"This development we believe provides maximum protection to most importantly the victims in this case," said Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo. "It avoids their having to testify for a second time. They will of course testify at a trial in the case."
Costanzo said the amount of publicity generated by Sandusky's attorney made the move unexpected, but said the decision to waive was not unusual given the strength of the state's case.
Sandusky's decision immediately prompted speculation that he may seek a deal to plead guilty in return for a reduced prison sentence.
"I think the chances are really good" of a plea bargain, said Slade McLaughlin, a lawyer representing Victim One, whom Sandusky is alleged to have abused more than 20 times in 2007 and 2008.
But there have been no discussions of such a deal, Costanzo said, echoing statements from Amendola, Sandusky's lawyer.
Sandusky's next court appearance, an arraignment, was scheduled for Jan. 11, but he entered a not guilty plea on Tuesday, and does not need to appear in court for the trial on that date, NBC reported. He remains under house arrest.
Victims 'do not have to relive' experiences
Michael Boni, a lawyer for one of the accusers, said he was encouraged by the development. 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.
A lawyer for the boy identified in court documents as Victim 6, a boy whose mother contacted police in 1998 after her son allegedly showered with Sandusky, said waiving the hearing amounted to more abuse of the accusers, who had steeled themselves to testify.
"It would have been apparent from watching those boys and their demeanor that they were telling the truth," lawyer Howard Janet said.
Sandusky, in a dark suit, entered the county courthouse through the back door Tuesday morning with his wife, Dottie, at his side. About 50 members of the media and 10 local residents, a few of them with cameras to take pictures, awaited his arrival.
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 with 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 didn't involve abuse.
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 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.
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.