BELLEFONTE, Pa. - Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky on Tuesday abruptly waived his right to a preliminary hearing on child sex abuse charges, delaying by several months the first public testimony from his accusers.
Sandusky, 67, has maintained his innocence on 52 charges of molesting 10 boys over more than a decade.
"We are not in any way conceding guilt. Today's decision was a tactical measure," Joe Amendola, Sandusky's defense attorney, told reporters outside the courtroom.
The waiver was the latest twist in a scandal that shook the prestigious university in central Pennsylvania and prompted a string of investigations into how football culture at Penn State might have contributed to the scandal and its fallout.
The case will now head to trial, but the date could be set for months or even over a year away.
Even as the courtroom drama was unfolding, a U.S. Senate subcommittee prepared to hold a hearing on whether to tighten requirements on reporting child abuse.
Sandusky also waived a Jan. 11 arraignment hearing where charges against him would be read.The next procedural hearing in the case will be on March 22, the court website said. Tuesday's hearing had been expected to determine whether there was enough evidence to bring Sandusky for trial.
"The decision is surprising," Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo said of Sandusky's waiving the hearing. Costanzo said that prosecutors had 11 witnesses -- including some alleged victims -- ready to testify that Sandusky was a serial child sex abuser.
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 an unidentified man listed in court documents as Victim One, whom Sandusky is alleged to have abused more than 20 times in 2007 and 2008.
But Costanzo said there is no talk of such a deal at this point.
Sandusky, his attorneys and prosecutors made a brief but dramatic appearance in the packed courtroom where gasps were heard when the judge announced the waiver.
Sandusky, in a dark suit, was lead out of the back of the courthouse in handcuffs and paused to address reporters:
"We fully intend to put together the best possible defense that we can do, to stay the course, to fight for four quarters ... We want the opportunity to present our side," Sandusky said using a football metaphor, as he emerged from court.
National attention on abuse
Costanzo said the waiver "helps the prosecution in a lot of ways," and that Sandusky's alleged victims would avoid having to testify twice in the case.
The attorney for the boy identified in court documents as Victim 6, said Sandusky's legal strategy left him with mixed emotions.
"I would have liked these boys to have the opportunity to tell their story so the public would have had the benefit of assessing those boys and that they are giving testimony from their hearts," said attorney Howard Janet.
Sandusky is the focus of a wide-ranging investigation of alleged child sex abuse over a 15-year period. The original charges were outlined in a 23-page grand jury report in early November, and additional charges have been filed.
Two former university officials have also been charged in an alleged cover-up of Sandusky's activities, and have professed their innocence.
Penn State's board of trustees in November fired legendary football coach Joe Paterno and the university president for not telling police after they were informed of one alleged incident.
The Penn State scandal has focused national attention on the problem of child abuse. In Washington, Senator Barbara Mikulski said at a hearing called as a result of the Penn State situation, that every adult should be required to report known or suspected child abuse.
Michael McQueary, a Penn State assistant football coach, told the grand jury in Sandusky's case that he had seen the former defensive coordinator raping a young boy in the football team's locker room showers in 2002.
But the then-graduate assistant did not report the alleged incident to police, only to team officials. Since then, McQueary's testimony and reports of conflicting versions of what he saw, have been a focus of the case.
Amendola said he will look to "destroy" McQueary's testimony at trial. "If we destroy McQueary's credibility, then we put the credibility of all others involved into question," he said.
Also on Tuesday, the head of the special committee set up by Penn State to investigate the child sex abuse scandal said he hoped the inquiry could be completed in the spring of 2012, before the end of the current academic year.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Writing by Ros Krasny; Editing by Greg McCune and Jackie Frank)