On A Frosty Pennsylvania Morning, Jerry Sandusky Is Punxsutawney PhilS

BELLEFONTE, Pa.—Jack-all of substance happened in the Centre County courthouse today, as you already know. Jerry Sandusky waived his preliminary hearing. No witnesses testified; no new information came out.

The ritual was everything and all there was. In the courtroom, I sat on a wooden bench beneath a ceiling with gold filigree, surrounded by oil paintings of prim justices and by dozens of my fellow oily members of the media. Armen Keteyian and Bob Ley looked as swollen and haughty as champion hogs. But they scribbled notes in reporters' pads like ordinary hacks.

Sandusky entered the courtroom in a dark, lumpy suit, and the press quieted. He moved well for a large man, almost daintily. You could tell that he used to be an athlete. As he crossed the bar, Sandusky turned to regard the audience. His expression was hard to read. Sandusky perpetually wears a stunned look on his wide face. But he did look shocked to see how many people were in the gallery. Or maybe he might have been embarrassed, knowing he was about to deprive them of a show.

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"What do we do about witnesses?" one of the courtroom sketch artists asked a man behind me. "Do we just obliterate their faces?"

The man didn't know. He wanted the artist to watch and see if Sandusky made eye contact with his accusers.

But there'd be no eye contact. Moments after arriving, Sandusky entered the justice's chambers with his lawyers. They were in there for a while and came out a few minutes before 8:30. Sandusky hunched down at the defendant's table, his large frame trying to vanish.

His wife Dottie sat in the front row, looking relaxed. Other members of Sandusky's family were smiling and laughing. Their breezy attitude seemed strange until the judge announced that there'd be no hearing.

I don't think you can interpret this as anything but a giant "up yours" to the prosecuting attorneys and the assembled members of the press. It could also have been a smart PR move by Sandusky's lawyer, Joe Amendola, who must have realized some time ago that having person after person testify about Sandusky's alleged crimes in front of a tuned-up media horde might not be a good idea.

So the main event was gone, and it wasn't even 9 o'clock. It had already been a long morning. There is something offensive and inspiring about being awake in a Days Inn well before dawn. You feel that you have accomplished something important until you realize that you have only done what meth addicts across the country do every Tuesday. On the way to Bellefonte, Dom and I stopped for breakfast at the only place we could—a Sheetz gas station. This meant that we were buying food from a company with money ties to both The Second Mile and the Pennsylvania governor.

When we arrived in town, the thermometer in our car read 20 degrees. On the frozen courthouse steps, I met a genial Dutchman named Kees Brandse. He'd won a lottery awarding passes to non-media to attend the hearing. He'd come from his home in State College.

"I'm interested in the American court system," he said. "This was a chance for me to experience it from close up."

Poor Kees Brandse. He experienced the system close up, all right. What must he have made of Sandusky, who entered, schlubbed around, then exited? The hearing started at 8:29 and lasted all of a minute. The media groaned. Outside, Kees Brandse looked bewildered. "I am still not quite sure what happened."

Had happened? Everyone came out looking for the face of depravity, and they got Punxsutawney Phil. The media horde showed up on a cold morning in Nowhere, Pa.—and the subject of their attention wandered out, blinked a few times, and went back underground. Sandusky may not appear in court again for months. On reflection, Sandusky even looked like a giant, silver-haired groundhog.

So we get six (or 16, or 60) more weeks of the show about the show. After the hearing, suit after suit—a senior deputy attorney general, victims' lawyers—took to the microphone to field questions from the horde. Many suits claimed they had to leave but lingered for hours to warm themselves in front of TV cameras. At one point, a phalanx of reporters chased a suit into a pharmacy. They waited by the door, bristling with cameras and microphones as startled customers at the soda counter peered out from inside.

The most interesting performance came from Amendola, who whistles his sibilants when he talks. He'd said nothing in the courtroom, but for almost two hours, he whistled in the cold and—who could blame him?—cut down reporters for already convicting his client. One of the reasons for waiving the hearing, Amendola said, was to avoid having the press parrot the allegations of witnesses. "All that would have done is reaffirm what many of you already think—that Jerry Sandusky is guilty."

He had a point. I began to think he might know what he was doing. Within minutes, though, he'd referred the world to a gay phone sex number. I went to the Dairy Queen. An hour later, Amendola was still whistling. The joke in DQ by then was that he'd started to take questions from the Internet.

More: Photos from the hearing that wasn't