Retired University Park Detective Ronald Schreffler believed he had enough evidence in 1998 to charge then-Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky with something after the man admitted to a boy's mother to showering naked with her son.
"At the very minimum, there was enough evidence for some charges, like corruption of minors," Mr. Schreffler said on Wednesday, the day after Mr. Sandusky chose to waive his preliminary hearing on 52 counts that accuse him of molesting 10 boys over the last several years.
Instead, then-Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar told Mr. Schreffler he could not file charges. The detective said Mr. Gricar gave no explanation.
"You don't question Ray," Mr. Schreffler said, calling him the best prosecutor he'd ever worked with. "Ray was not a person to be intimidated. If he didn't feel the elements were there ..."
At the time, Mr. Gricar spoke to Mr. Schreffler's police chief, Tom Harmon, and that was it.
"'Gricar said there wasn't enough to charge, and he said to close the case,'" Mr. Schreffler recounted.
And that was it.
"I looked as far as I could with the facts that I had," he said. "I felt I did everything I could possibly do in the case.
"It was frustrating to say the least."
The 1998 investigation began when the mother of the boy known as Victim 6 in the grand jury presentment contacted Penn State Police.
According to the 23-page document, the boy met Mr. Sandusky when he was 7 or 8, at a picnic held by The Second Mile, the nonprofit he founded for at-risk youth. After that, Mr. Sandusky would invite him to tailgates, football games and other outings. The now-grown man testified that when he was 11 in 1998, Mr. Sandusky picked him up at home and told him they would be working out. They went to Penn State, where they lifted weights and played a ball game Mr. Sandusky had made up.
The two then began to wrestle, and afterward, Mr. Sandusky said they needed to shower, even though the boy said he wasn't sweaty, the grand jury document read.
"Victim 6 felt awkward and tried to go to a shower some distance away from Sandusky but Sandusky called him over, saying he had already warmed up a shower for the boy. While in the shower, Sandusky approached the boy, grabbed him around the waist and said, 'I'm going to squeeze your guts out,'" according to the presentment. "Sandusky lathered up the boy, soaping his back because, he said, the boy would not be able to reach it. Sandusky bear-hugged the boy from behind, holding the boy's back against his chest. Then he picked him up and put him under the showerhead to rinse soap out of his hair. Victim 6 testified that the entire shower episode felt very awkward. No one else was around when this occurred."
The boy's mother noted his wet hair when he got home, and he told her about the showering. She reported the incident to another Penn State police officer, who passed along Mr. Schreffler's number. She first contacted him on May 4 of that year.
The detective arranged with the woman to contact Mr. Sandusky and ask him to come to her house in the hopes of getting him to corroborate the boy's account and say something incriminating about his actions. He planned to listen in. Ahead of time, he wrote out a script for the mother to follow.
"I scripted it," he said. "'Ask him about the soap and the hair. Tell him he was upset,' to solicit more comments from him."
And then Mr. Schreffler and another detective listened in a room in the house less than 15 feet away. There were two conversations, on May 13 and then May 19.
In the first conversation, the mother "confronted Sandusky about showering with her son, the effect it had on her son, whether Sandusky had sexual feelings when he hugged her naked son in the shower," according to testimony before the grand jury.
"Sandusky said he had showered with other boys and Victim 6's mother tried to make Sandusky promise never to shower with a boy again but he would not," according to the presentment.
During the second conversation, however, Mr. Sandusky's response changed, Mr. Schreffler said.
"I'll never forget this. He said 'I would ask for your forgiveness, but I know you won't give it to me. I wish I were dead.'"
Mr. Sandusky also told the woman, "'I understand I was wrong,'" Mr. Schreffler recounted.
"Hearing him make that comment, I just felt there was more there. He was upbeat when he came in, and she started hammering him. I often wonder what he would have done if I'd stepped out from around the corner.
"It's something we'll never know."
Mr. Schreffler and Jerry Lauro, a child abuse investigator from the state Department of Public Welfare, interviewed Mr. Sandusky on June 1, 1998. During that interview at the Lasch football building on Penn State's campus, Mr. Schreffler said the man admitted to showering with boys.
"He said that he showered with other boys in the past, that he used poor judgment," he said.
Now, those allegations are part of the presentment, and the then-11-year-old boy is identified as Victim No. 6. He testified before the grand jury and said that Mr. Sandusky bear-hugged him while they were naked in the shower.
Mr. Sandusky did not have a lawyer at the time because he never thought he needed one, said his current attorney, Joseph Amendola.
"The reality is no criminal activity occurred. The shower incident involved no sexual misconduct," Mr. Amendola said. "Jerry apologized to Accuser No. 6's mother, not for any illegal or inappropriate sexual contact, but for any misperception [his] mother may have had about the situation. Jerry has always denied he said he wished he was dead."
Mr. Amendola went on to say that the boy continued to have contact with Mr. Sandusky, as did his parents. And as recently as July, they all had dinner together. In addition, the attorney said that the Sanduskys sponsored the young man on a mission trip to Mexico after the alleged incident in the shower.
"Jerry never viewed the 1998 situation as significant because he was only contacted briefly about it and Accuser No. 6's mother continued to encourage Jerry to do things with [the boy] afterwards."
Mr. Schreffler speculates that the district attorney declined to press charges because the state Department of Public Welfare didn't indicate a charge of abuse, which would have made the prosecution's case even more difficult.
"It'd be a little hard for them to prosecute, when you have the state saying there wasn't any abuse."
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mr. Lauro said he closed the case because he lacked substantial evidence that there was abuse.
"It didn't meet the criteria," Mr. Lauro said. "If I really thought there were any child abuse ... I definitely would have indicated it."
Mr. Gricar disappeared in April 2005, and has not been seen since. He was declared dead in July.
Michael Madeira, who took over the district attorney's office in January 2006 and left last year, said there were no records explaining the declination of prosecution -- nor would he expect there to be.
Mr. Schreffler, who retired from the university in 2006 with 33 years of service, now works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
He was subpoenaed by the grand jury in the Sandusky matter on Feb. 25 and testified in Harrisburg on March 10.
When Mr. Schreffler learned about the investigation, he said he wasn't surprised.
"I felt my hunch was right. There was something there."
Paula Reed Ward: email@example.com or 412-263-2620.