BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had three of the 51 child sex-abuse charges against him dismissed Thursday before attorneys began closing arguments in the high-profile case that led to the firing of longtime head coach Joe Paterno.
Judge John Cleland found one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and one count of aggravated indecent assault involving the accuser known as Victim 4 weren't supported by the evidence. Another charge of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse involving another boy was dismissed because Cleland said it duplicated another count.
Sandusky still faces 48 criminal counts involving 10 alleged victims. Jurors were to hear closing arguments Thursday morning and could begin deliberations by the afternoon.
Cleland said two of the counts had to be dismissed because the alleged victim testified Sandusky attempted to penetrate him but didn't say that such penetration had actually occurred. Cleland said he would have been required to set aside any convictions on those counts, because "the verdict was not supported by the evidence."
MORE: Testimony ends in Sandusky abuse trial
When jurors begin weighing Sandusky's fate, they won't have the benefit of having heard the former coach take the stand in his own defense.
Once famed for his coaching acumen, Sandusky is charged with the alleged abuse of 10 boys over 15 years in hotels, at his home and in the football team's showers. Sandusky has maintained his innocence, and his attorneys have tried to weaken the prosecution's case by discrediting police investigators and suggesting that accusers are hoping to cash in on potential civil lawsuits.
Sandusky's arrest in November sparked an explosive scandal that led to the firing of Paterno and the departure of the university president, and cast a critical eye on the role of college administrators in reporting abuse allegations. The sweeping case also led to renewed focus on child abuse issues.
Cleland began Thursday's court session by instructing the 12 jurors and three alternates. The defense and prosecution would then present their closings, in that order.
The judge said jurors will each get a list showing each accuser, a worksheet of each alleged crime that will have questions they must answer in order to reach a verdict, along with a verdict slip.
"We make few decisions in life that are free from all doubt," he told them. "You must be convinced to the same degree that you would act in a matter of your own life."
He explained that just the "mere suspicion of guilt" is not enough to arrive at a guilty verdict.
"You may believe he exercised poor judgment, but poor judgment in itself does not warrant criminality," he said. He also said that it is "not necessarily a crime to shower with a boy, lather with soap, engage in back rubbing."
Jurors will have to decide whether the defense was able to create sufficient doubt based on how the investigation was conducted, the reliability and motives of the accusers, and Sandusky's decades-long reputation as a man who worked tirelessly to help underprivileged children.
Prosecutors called 22 witnesses, including eight young men, ages 18 to 28, who alleged a range of abuse from grooming, kissing and massaging to fondling, oral sex and anal rape when they were boys.
Many of the 28 defense witnesses testified briefly to vouch for Sandusky's reputation. The defense's case has consisted of character witnesses who defended Sandusky's reputation, a psychologist who said Sandusky had a personality disorder and the ex-coach's wife, who said she did not see her husband do anything inappropriate with the accusers. His lawyers showed that an investigator had shared information with an accuser about other alleged victims' stories and repeatedly suggested that accusers have financial motivations for their claims.
Sandusky was only heard from via a November interview with NBC's Bob Costas, saying he probably shouldn't have showered with boys; and in letters he wrote to one of his accusers.
The defense asked Cleland to dismiss five counts related to a boy who was allegedly seen with Sandusky by a janitor, but the judge denied that request Thursday, saying they were up the jury to decide.