By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky appears determined to hold out for a trial on explosive 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 will 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 since then have shredded the reputation of Pennsylvania State University and focused national attention on the problem of child abuse.
So many media applied to attend the full day preliminary hearing at Centre County court in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania that a special credentialing system has been set up. The court on on Tuesday will not hear a plea of guilty or not guilty, which will be 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. But he has since rejected this.
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, the experts said.
"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 already has 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 this 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, who turned Penn State into "Linebacker U" while defensive coordinator, 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.
Trustees fired longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier last month after they failed to report to police an incident after they were told about an alleged 2002 sexual assault by Sandusky on a boy in a football complex shower but did not report it to police.
Former Athletic Director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz face charges of perjury and failure to report the alleged 2002 incident.
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.
'IT'S GOING TO BE BRUTAL'
Mallios, a former Philadelphia sex crimes prosecutor, said it would be from six to 18 months before the trial itself 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 pre-trial hearings that could determine whether the cases are heard separately or consolidated.
Bill Stradley, a criminal defense lawyer with the Houston law firm of Chernoff, Stradley & Alford, said merging the cases could help "scorched earth" tactics by Sandusky's lawyer.
They could include arguing, for example, that the alleged victims were conspiring against him.
While most analysts expected Sandusky to go to trial, Stradley predicted he would eventually plead guilty given the number of alleged victims and the widespread publicity about the case.
"His lawyer has to give some serious consideration to try to limit the damage to this guy. This is going to be a difficult trial. It's going to be brutal," he said.
"The average juror is going to say, 'There's a whole lot of smoke here, there must be a fire.'"
Mallios said the Sandusky case was unusual since a graduate assistant coach had allegedly witnessed the 2002 sexual assault and reported it.
Most sexual abuse cases have no witnesses. Pennsylvania law allows for uncorroborated testimony of a sexual assault victim if it is enough to make the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he said.
(Additional reporting by David Warner in Philadelphia; Editing by Greg McCune)