By Mark Shade
HARRISBURG, Pa (Reuters) - Five Penn State University students decided on Wednesday to go straight to trial on charges they rioted over the firing of football coach Joe Paterno after his assistant coach's arrest for child sex abuse.
The students, who were among six facing the most serious charges in the unrest that inflicted $190,000 in damages, waived their right to a preliminary hearing in Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.
It was the same courthouse where former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky last week waived the same right, sending his case directly to trial sometime next year. He is charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse involving 10 boys, many whom he met through a charity he founded for troubled youth.
Fallout over Sandusky's arrest resulted in the firing last month of the popular Paterno, who turned 85 on Wednesday and had been head coach for 46 years. His dismissal triggered a wave of outrage among some students, and in protest about 1,000 of them poured into the streets around campus on November 9.
Angry chants of "Hell no, Joe won't go" dissolved into vandalism, including the upending of a television news van.
A total of 40 students were charged, police said.
The six facing the most serious charge of felony riot, all from Pennsylvania, were accused of tipping over the TV van, which reportedly accounted for most of the $190,000 in damages.
Five of them waived their preliminary hearing on Wednesday, and their was set for March 22. The sixth student has a preliminary hearing set for January 4.
The explosive allegations surrounding Sandusky also forced the university to fire president Graham Spanier, put athletic director Tim Curley on administrative leave and accept the retirement of former top finance official Gary Schultz.
Curley and Schultz have been charged with lying to a grand jury and failing to report a crime.
Sandusky, Curley, and Schultz have maintained their innocence and are free on bail as they await their trials.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)