- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Word that a man who says Dennis Hastert sexually abused him could testify at the former U.S. House speaker’s sentencing next month in a hush-money case raises the potential for an emotional and revelatory scene.

Transcripts of an unannounced hearing this week included a federal judge and attorneys discussing an “Individual D,” who prosecutors said could testify at the April 27 sentencing. Someone who says her brother was another victim also wants to testify.

Here’s a look at the latest disclosures, where the case stands and what more may be revealed:

Q: What’s Hastert accused of?

A: Hastert pleaded guilty in October to unlawfully structuring banking withdrawals after agreeing to pay $3.5 million to an “Individual A” to keep that person quiet about past misconduct by Hastert against Individual A. It happened decades ago, around when Hastert was a high school wrestling coach.

The Associated Press and other media outlets, citing anonymous sources, have reported that Hastert wanted to hide claims he sexually molested someone. That issue hadn’t been cited in unsealed filings or in court until this week. Transcripts of the Tuesday hearing don’t mention Individual A, but recount the judge speaking to prosecutors and attorneys about Individual D.

Q: What’s known about Individual D and what he might have to say?

A: The transcripts offer little detail. Individual D is clearly male and an adult. It’s also clear prosecutors learned about him recently. Prosecutor Steven Block told Judge Thomas M. Durkin that Individual D couldn’t attend the sentencing previously scheduled for April 8 because of a business trip. Block also talks about Individual D not being 100 percent sure he will speak at the hearing and says he is “a very unique witness who we’re trying to be sensitive to.”

Whatever Individual D says is likely be dramatic and something never before divulged publicly.

Q: Would Individual D be barred from saying certain things?

A: Victims can largely say what they want to at sentencings. That’s a contrast to testimony at trials, where witnesses are instructed to stick to the facts and leave emotion out. Displays of emotion at sentencings are expected, even encouraged by attorneys.

“Sentencing is the Wild, Wild West in terms of what’s permissible,” says Terry Ekl, a Chicago criminal attorney. Hearsay is frequently allowed at sentencing, he adds. That could open the way for Individual D to speak about other potential victims.

One reason for allowing victims to speak their minds is that sentencings are also meant to help bring them closure, says Chicago attorney Michael Helfand. “It’s really for them psychologically,” he said.

Typically, victims have two ways of addressing the court in person: In a simple statement before the judge or, less commonly, as a witness who takes the stand and responds to questions from an attorney - which also subjects them to cross-examination.

The judge and the attorney spoke Tuesday about Individual D taking the stand. That option often arises when someone isn’t directly a victim of the crime for which a defendant was convicted - in this case banking violations - and when facts surrounding an allegation may be in dispute.

Q: Would Individual D’s identity be made public?

A: Prosecutors and attorneys could concur that forcing Individual D to divulge his name in a packed courtroom would benefit no one. But given that Individual D’s statements could at least influence the judge’s decision about whether to give Hastert time behind bars, the defense could argue that he should be identified.

Q: Could what Individual D says be decisive?

A: Having a victim in the courtroom would certainly change the tone of the hearing. Often victims want to directly address people who hurt them. Having someone present who says Hastert abused him would make it impossible for Hastert to sidestep the question of sex abuse.

Helfand, though, says judges often head into a sentencing having largely decided on a punishment, allowing for some variation based on victim statements or a defendant displaying remorse.

Hastert, who the defense says nearly died from a blood infection in November, faces a statutory maximum of five years behind bars, though his plea deal calls for a sentence between probation and up to six months in prison.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm

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