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Plea deal a longshot in Sandusky child sex abuse case

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Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, left, and Karl Rominger, an attorney, walk out of the Centre County Courthouse at the end of the second day of jury selection in Sandusky's child sex abuse trial on June 6.


There has been a fair amount of chatter about the possibility of a plea bargain in the Jerry Sandusky case. At this point, however, the odds seem quite high that this case will be resolved by a jury. 

Though there were some signs early in the case that plea discussions might be under way, it would be difficult for the prosecution to make an offer the defense would be willing to accept.  The main reason is the defendant's age -- 68.  A sentence of more than 12 to 15 years would virtually guarantee that Sandusky would never see life outside a jail cell, especially given that inmates have shorter than average life expectancy.  Yet given the seriousness of the allegations against Sandusky, the prosecution could hardly agree to a sentence that would mean anything less than an effective life sentence.  In some ways, the defense had little choice but to go to trial -- there was no realistic alternative. 

With jury selection wrapped up, Jerry Sandusky, charged with 52 counts of child sex abuse, heads to trial on Monday. If convicted, he faces decades in prison. NBC's Michael Isikoff reports.

That doesn't mean that the defense will have an easy time of it when opening arguments start Monday. Sandusky is facing allegations that he sexually molested 10 boys, eight of whom are expected to testify.  It will be difficult for jurors to believe that the accounts of all these victims are false. The defense has already previewed that it will claim that these victims had motivations to lie.  Even if such a possibility can be raised for one or two of the alleged victims, jurors will wonder if eight victims would be willing to face this intense scrutiny if their tales were false.  Jurors will certainly find it unlikely that a possible financial reward or public notoriety would be worth the extraordinary cost to eight different men.  Each witness story enhances the reliability of the others. 

Wes OliverWes Oliver is a professor at Widener University who teaches criminal law and procedure. This fall he will join the faculty of the Duquesne University School of Law as a professor and director of the school's criminal justice program.

The prosecution will, however, be left with a very difficult choice to make.  Does it present the testimony of Mike McQueary? McQueary allegedly saw Sandusky with a young boy in a shower in a Penn State locker room. The upside for the prosecution is that McQueary is an independent witness. There is nothing McQueary could gain from inventing such a story. He thus helps negate the defense suggestion that the alleged victims had a motive to fabricate. 

TruTv's Beth Karas discusses the jury that was empaneled and what could be a tough road ahead for the defense given the number of accusers.

But McQueary is also a tremendous liability.  First, Mike McQueary has given differing accounts of the incident.  Then there's a problem with timing.  In his grand jury testimony, McQueary was certain that he witnessed the incident in March 2002 and immediately reported the matter to university officials.  The prosecution recently announced, however, that the shower incident McQueary allegedly witnessed occurred in February 2001.  It is not clear whether the prosecution now claims that the incident occurred in February 2001 and that McQueary contemporaneously reported it to university officials, or if the prosecution now believes that he witnessed the incident in 2001 but failed to report it until 2002.  

Full trial coverage from msnbc.com and NBC News

Under either scenario, the fact that the prosecution and its star witness disagree on this date by over a year is problematic.  McQueary was absolutely certain about the date in his preliminary hearing testimony.  If, however, the facts at trial reveal McQueary allegedly saw the events in 2001 but did not report the events for over a year, the jury will be left to wonder why McQueary waited -- and if he saw the events in the first place. And if the state's independent witness, with no possible motive to fabricate, can't be trusted, the jury may start to wonder whether the interested witnesses can be trusted.

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