Jerry Sandusky met with his attorney, state prosecutors, and the judge handling his case Tuesday in a private, three-hour session, a day before the last scheduled pretrial hearing in his child sex-abuse case.
The previously unannounced session fueled talk of potential eleventh-hour developments in the widely watched case against the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach, which is set to begin jury selection next week.
"There's a lot of speculation that a plea [deal] is going on," James Koval, a spokesman for the state Supreme Court, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I have no indication of that at this point."
Bound by a judicial gag order, everyone who attended declined to comment after leaving the meeting at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte just after 6 p.m.
Lawyers representing several of Sandusky's accusers said that as of late Tuesday they had not been advised by the state Attorney General's Office of the topics being discussed with the judge.
None of those contacted said they were asked to make any special preparations in advance of a scheduled hearing Wednesday, in which Judge John M. Cleland is expected to resolve any outstanding issues before the trial's start. Sandusky's attorney, Joseph Amendola, has previously said his client was not planning to attend Wednesday's court hearing.
Among the issues that could be addressed was an unusual request made in court filings Tuesday by four of Sandusky's accusers. They asked the judge's permission to take the witness stand using assumed names, citing the "intense scrutiny of the national and local media."
Their efforts were joined by a coalition of victims advocacy groups led by the Washington-based National Center for Victims of Crime, which is seeking to protect the privacy of the four additional accusers who are expected to be called as witnesses in the case.
But lawyers for one young man in that latter group signaled that their client still intended to take the stand without a pseudonym.
"He is prepared to testify publicly and under his own name when he is called," Bala Cynwyd lawyer Michael Boni said of his client, whom prosecutors have identified as "Victim 1." The now-18-year-old Clinton County man's allegations against the former coach helped launch the attorney general's grand jury investigation four years ago.
Since he was assigned to the case last year, Cleland has taken pains to protect the identities of Sandusky's accusers, many of whom are now adults though their purported abuse happened in their youth.
The judge has required attorneys for both sides to review many sensitive documents in his chambers and has ordered the lawyers to keep the alleged victims' names out of pretrial court filings.
Still, the last-minute request to testify under pseudonyms is unusual. In the ongoing Philadelphia case against two priests accused of either abusing children or putting them in harm's way, all purported sex-abuse victims took the stand under their real names.
And up until this week, state prosecutors were preparing the young men in the Sandusky case to testify publicly using their given names, lawyers for one said this week.
Most news organizations, including The Inquirer, have policies against identifying purported victims of sexual abuse in published accounts.
But Tuesday's motions suggest a growing concern over the worldwide interest in the case and the effect overwhelming publicity could have on the accusers.
"It is an unfortunate reality that some victims in high-profile cases view the disclosure of their identity as the equivalent of being branded with a scarlet letter," wrote Ben Andreozzi and Jeff Fritz, lawyers for an accuser identified as Victim 4. "Although Victim 4 remains 100 percent committed to testifying against the defendant in this case, at what expense will it come to his short-term and long-term well-being?"
Andreozzi noted in his filing Tuesday that Sandusky's defense does not oppose the request for anonymity. No mention was made of prosecutors' stance on the issue.