HARRISBURG -- A long-delayed court hearing against three former top Penn State University administrators over their role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal will begin Monday in Dauphin County Common Pleas Court.
The preliminary hearing -- which could last up to three days -- will determine whether the case against former PSU president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz goes forward to a full trial.
The defendants are charged with perjury, endangering the welfare of children, obstructing justice, conspiracy and failure to report suspected child abuse.
All three men say they are innocent.
Prosecutors have accused them of being part of a "conspiracy of silence" to cover up Sandusky's crimes, in particular a now-infamous 2001 assault in a locker room shower.
According to a grand jury indictment and independent investigation performed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, the incident was reported by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who told the late football coach Joe Paterno, who in turn told Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz, who then told former university president Graham Spanier.
The three administrators failed to report the assault to authorities, and then lied about it in grand jury testimony, prosecutors allege.
Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child sex abuse; he is serving a prison sentence of 30 to 60 years.
"Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz engaged in a repeated pattern of behavior that evidenced a willful disregard for the safety and well-being of minor children on the Penn State campus," states a grand jury document that lays out the charges against them.
In the spring of 1998, when Sandusky was a prominent defensive coordinator and assistant football coach at Penn State, the mother of one of Sandusky's victims made a report to the University Park Police, after she learned that her 11-year-old son had showered with the coach, grand jury documents state. A police official contacted Mr. Schultz, who took notes during their conversations about the specifics of the investigation, the grand jury presentment states.
"At the conclusion of his notes, [Mr. Schultz] pondered two chilling questions when he wrote, 'is this opening of Pandora's box? Other children?' " grand jury documents state. The grand jury reviewed "a number of electronic communications" among Mr. Schultz, Mr. Curley and Mr. Spanier on the matter.
"The plan of action undertaken [after the 2001 assault] by these three administrators, who formed the very apex of decision-making and power at Penn State, was created out of a desire to shield Sandusky from the criminal process and, perhaps most importantly, to spare the University tremendous negative publicity and embarrassment," according to grand jury documents.
A key component of the case hinges on the role of former state Supreme Court justice Cynthia Baldwin. She was serving as general counsel for Penn State, and the three men believed she was their attorney during their appearances before the grand jury in 2011.
Ms. Baldwin has said she was representing Penn State, not the three defendants.
The three have argued charges against them should be dismissed because of Ms. Baldwin's role. If Ms. Baldwin was representing the administrators, her testimony -- which the grand jury presentment says prosecutors relied upon -- would violate attorney-client privilege. If she was not representing them, the charges should be thrown out because they were denied their right to an attorney, mistakenly believing that they already had one, attorneys for the three men argue.
They've so far been unsuccessful.
The case against them has been delayed for months while their attorneys argued to have the case dismissed. But a judge ruled in April that the case could move forward after hearing several appeals.
"This court notes that Spanier, Curley and Schultz are 'highly educated' men who had positions of considerable influence at PSU as well as inferentially, knowledge about important evens that impact the reputation of the university; and it therefore strains credulity to infer that they were somehow deluded or misrepresented by attorney Baldwin," wrote Judge Barry Feudale in an April 9 opinion.
One legal expert believes the hearing is certain to find probable cause to move forward, as the legal threshold for doing so is fairly low.
"There's no way this case won't move to the next stage," said Wes Oliver, an associate professor of law at Duquesne University.
Then, the question "is about whether these men had enough information that they were criminally reckless in not acting," he said.
Caroline Roberto, who is representing Mr. Curley, said Monday's hearing is merely a part of the legal process and is not an indicator of a defendant's guilt or innocence.
"Tim Curley is innocent and we look forward to vigorously challenging the charges at every stage," she said.
Kate Giammarise: email@example.com, 717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.