Pittsburgh defense attorneys question Sandusky strategy

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Two veteran Pittsburgh defense lawyers questioned the decision by former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's lawyer to waive his client's right to a preliminary hearing today.

Attorneys Charles J. Porter and G. William Bills said they would have gone ahead with the hearing, using the opportunity to question witnesses under oath and possibly reveal inconsistencies in their accounts. While defense lawyers typically cannot call their own witnesses at preliminary hearings, they are permitted to cross-examine anyone the prosecution puts on the stand.

"You are giving up the ability to pin down a version of facts from the witnesses," Mr. Porter said. "If I was thinking of fighting tooth and nail to the end, I would want to have the preliminary hearing."

Now Sandusky lawyer Joseph Amendola's only opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses will be at trial.

"What is the strategy? I don't know," said attorney G. William Bills. "A defense attorney can get a sense and feeling for the case by doing the preliminary hearing. I feel handicapped when I don't do the prelim.

"Although this would have been ugly and the witnesses would have testified, you would have been able to evaluate their credibility," he said.

Another Pittsburgh defense attorney, Joseph Paletta, said waiving the hearing "was certainly a reasonable decision under the circumstances."

One reason lawyers will do that is if an accuser doesn't appear or isn't available for the trial, the prosecutor could introduce the transcript of the witness's preliminary hearing testimony "to remedy that unavailability," Mr. Paletta said. Without it, the witness's no-show creates an "automatic win" for the defense at trial, he said.

Another reason supporting a decision to waive the hearing is that the victims' testimony was likely to be ugly and traumatic "with the likelihood that the case would be held for court anyway," he said.

Mr. Bills also was critical of Mr. Amendola's decision to expose Mr. Sandusky to interviews with NBC's Bob Costas and the New York Times, saying it is almost never a good idea for a high-profile client to do that.

He called Mr. Amendola's handling of the case "as bizarre as the circumstances surrounding Area 51," the Nevada military base that has often been linked to UFO sightings and other paranormal activity.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.


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