Spanier trial could unlock final mysteries in Penn State case
March 19, 2017 12:36 AM
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times
Former Penn State University president Graham Spanier.
Former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz, left, and former athletic director Tim Curley, right.
Dan Gleiter/PennLive.com via AP
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier leaves the Centre County Courthouse in October.
By Susan Snyder and Jeremy Roebuck / The Philadelphia Inquirer
After more than five years and nearly a dozen separate investigations, there seemed little left to be revealed about Jerry Sandusky and his serial sex abuse of children.
That abruptly changed in about an hour last week in Harrisburg.
The unexpected guilty pleas to child endangerment charges by two former Penn State University officials reopened the door to a long unresolved and oft-debated question: When did university leaders know about the former assistant coach's predatory behavior and what did they do — or fail to do — about it?
And this week Tim Curley, the former athletic director, and Gary Schultz, a onetime Penn State vice president, could provide answers.
Both men said little during or after their Monday hearing in Dauphin County Court before senior Judge John Boccabella. Their plea documents were sealed.
But Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz are likely to return to Harrisburg as early as Monday as witnesses in the trial of the lone remaining, and most prominent, defendant: Graham B. Spanier, their boss and former president of the state’s flagship university.
Mr. Spanier, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, also intends to take the stand, according to sources close to him.
Prosecutors plan to lay out for jurors what by now has become a familiar assertion: that in 1998 and again in 2001, the three men learned of accusations that Sandusky had sexually assaulted boys in showers, but failed to take sufficient steps to alert authorities or the public. Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley acknowledged as much in their pleas.
Friends of Mr. Spanier, now 68, say that prosecutors offered him a deal like the one the others took in exchange for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor endangerment count — but that he rejected it.
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, center, leaves the Centre County Courthouse in May (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
As recently as Thursday, Spanier confidant Al Lord said, the former president told him: “I’d rather go to jail for telling the truth than admit to a lie and say I did something I didn’t do.”
Mr. Spanier’s lawyers Samuel Silver and Bruce Merenstein declined to comment, as did the Attorney General’s Office.
According to Mr. Lord, Mr. Spanier remained confident, even as the trial will undoubtedly shift an unwanted spotlight back on Penn State.
“His anxiety level is high,” Mr. Lord, a Penn State board of trustees member, said. “But at the same time, he’s pretty excited about the chance to tell his side of the story and get this done.”
An acquittal would offer long-awaited vindication to those in the Penn State community who have felt for years that the university was unfairly maligned by the scandal and that top administrators failed to defend its reputation from specious allegations while the case dragged on.
A conviction would deal another blow to an institution still reeling from the fallout of Sandusky’s serial sex abuse.
The scandal cost Mr. Spanier his job and also led to the ouster of one of Penn State’s most beloved figures — iconic former football coach Joe Paterno. It has cost the university about a quarter billion dollars since 2011, including at least $93 million paid to settle claims from 33 Sandusky victims, $60 million in NCAA fines and $14 million spent to fund the legal defense of Mr. Spanier, Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz.
That total also includes the $12 million a Centre County court ordered the university to pay Mike McQueary — the graduate assistant who said he told administrators about Sandusky’s 2001 shower assault — in a whistleblower and defamation case.
Mr. Spanier testified at Mr. McQueary’s civil trial last year.
“This was an unbelievable injustice,” he said at the time, testifying about the charges against Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz, “that these two guys, who are like Boy Scouts, would be charged with a crime.”
Mr. McQueary, during his own stints on the witness stand in several Sandusky related proceedings, has repeatedly asserted that after witnessing Sandusky’s shower assault he made clear to Mr. Paterno, Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz that what he had seen was “way over the line and extremely sexual.”
But while testifying before the grand jury in 2011, both Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz maintained that Mr. McQueary failed to convey the seriousness of the incident, leaving both under the impression that he had merely witnessed questionable “horseplay.” They also testified that that was how they later described the incident to Mr. Spanier.
Prosecutors in Spanier’s case say they have evidence to suggest otherwise — namely, 2001 emails that suggest Mr. Spanier and his fellow administrators at least considered going to police to report what Mr. McQueary saw.
They ultimately rejected the idea, opting instead to bar Sandusky from bringing children on campus, to urge him to submit to counseling, and to inform his children’s charity, the Second Mile, of the allegations.
“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon,” Mr. Spanier wrote, signing off on the decision. “We then become vulnerable for not having reported it.”
In court filings leading up to the trial, Mr. Spanier’s lawyers have hinted at a trial strategy that will aim to shift the focus away from any moral obligation he may have had to deal with Sandusky. Instead, the defense has zeroed in on a limited view of what the former president was required to do under the law at the time.
State law in 2001 bound only people who regularly encountered children through their jobs — such as teachers, doctors, police officers — to report suspected child abuse. It wasn’t until 2006 that the statute was broadened to include supervisors who oversaw employees in those roles.
Prosecutors, however, maintain the administrator’s cover-up lasted well beyond the point when the law was changed.