Second guessing: The Sandusky probe report embarrasses only Kane


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When she ran for Pennsylvania attorney general in 2012, Democrat Kathleen Kane promised that, if elected, she would look into why it took so long to charge former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky with child abuse. Since the Sandusky probe began when Republican Gov. Tom Corbett was still attorney general, her promise came freighted with the suspicion that the delay had been political.

With the delivery of a report Monday by a former federal prosecutor she chose for the task, Ms. Kane has kept her promise. Her problem is that this investigation of an investigation didn’t conclude what she clearly had hoped it would conclude.

H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr. found no evidence of Mr. Corbett stymieing the investigation because of politics. But Mr. Moulton did detail various miscues by investigators.

The case against Sandusky started in November 2008 with a complaint from a 15-year-old high school boy in Clinton County. The attorney general’s office was not asked to take over the case until March 2009. It took 32 more months before charges were filed in November 2011.

Certainly, it could have been done faster but Mr. Moulton’s 166-page report makes clear the practical problems the prosecutors faced. They had only one accuser for more than a year and he was viewed as a “fragile victim.” Sandusky was still a highly respected figure in the community. They feared that if he were tried and acquitted, it would make a later prosecution far more difficult.

Prosecutors were handicapped by not knowing — because records had been expunged in a central registry under state law — that Sandusky had been investigated by Penn State police for a similar complaint in 1998.

In the interests of secrecy, prosecutors chose to go before a statewide grand jury. The assigned prosecutor wanted to bring charges in 2010 but her superiors were worried about the strength of the case and for five months the investigation stalled while they made up their minds. Their recommendation, backed finally by Mr. Corbett, was to wait until more victims could be found. The report found that this decision was within “acceptable bounds of prosecutorial discretion.”

In retrospect, it is clear that investigators should have taken other steps earlier, including searching Sandusky’s home and computer. What broke open the case was an email tip in November 2010 suggesting that prosecutors interview assistant coach Michael McQueary.

At a press conference Monday, Ms. Kane, while forced to acknowledge the report’s conclusion of no direct evidence of political influence by Mr. Corbett, was keen to try to have it both ways, complaining of “long periods of inexcusable delays” in the attorney general’s office that stalled the investigation for unknown reasons that she cast in a sinister light.

In short, Ms. Kane chose to indulge in political innuendo, despite the report finding no political shenanigans. But the greater problem was she was arguing against success.

Yes, mistakes were made and the investigation was too long, but in the end Sandusky was convicted of 45 of 48 counts of abusing 10 boys, eight of whom took the stand. Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison.

Ms. Kane justifies her continued criticism by saying that because investigators did not act promptly, two boys were abused in the fall of 2009. This is disputed, and embarrassingly she had to correct one detail of her statement later in the week. But the whole idea is based on conjecture about what might have happened differently.

Ms. Kane should read her own commissioned report, which warned about second-guessing in general. “In conducting this review, we were mindful of the adage that ‘hindsight is always 20-20.’ That familiar aphorism cautions everyone involved in after-the-fact-assessments .... that outcomes often seem more obvious in hindsight than they did as the events or projects were unfolding.”

Ms. Kane ended up looking petty and irresponsible while Mr. Corbett appeared largely vindicated. But now, at least, the general election is more likely to be decided on real issues.

 

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