Attorneys for former Penn State President Graham Spanier immediately went on the offensive Thursday after the state attorney general announced that their client was charged with lying to a grand jury, conspiracy and covering up child sexual abuse at his campus.
In a statement issued by Mr. Spanier's defense team, the attorneys said their client has committed no crime but instead is the victim of a "vindictive, politically motivated governor."
Attorneys Timothy K. Lewis, Elizabeth Ainslie, Peter F. Vaira and Jack Riley, in the statement, attempt to turn the attention in the case away from Mr. Spanier and back at Gov. Tom Corbett -- who was state attorney general when the investigation of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was launched.
"Today's presentment is the latest desperate act by Gov. Tom Corbett to cover up and divert attention away from the fact that he failed to warn the Penn State community about the suspicions surrounding Jerry Sandusky, and instead knowingly allowed a child predator to roam free in Pennsylvania," the statement said.
Mr. Spanier's attorneys claim that the failure to charge Sandusky when the first allegations were made against him in late 2008 could have compromised the safety of other children.
"The governor's legally indefensible explanations, repeated by Attorney General [Linda] Kelly at her news conference [Thursday] -- that he couldn't expose Sandusky for fear of compromising an ongoing grand jury investigation or that he needed more evidence -- are patently absurd," the statement said. It further criticizes the timing of the charges -- coming less than a week before the general election.
"These charges are the work of a vindictive and politically motivated governor working through an un-elected attorney general, Linda Kelly, whom he appointed to do his bidding and who will be a lame duck five days from now."
Mr. Spanier's attorneys accuse the governor of "manipulating public officials and resources to settle a personal score" against their client.
Mr. Lewis said as an example that he has witnesses who will testify that after the Penn State board of trustees' meeting when Mr. Spanier resigned last November that Mr. Corbett and his staff were seen celebrating Mr. Spanier's departure at a State College restaurant.
"We also have been made aware that Corbett was furious that Dr. Spanier was seen hosting his opponent for governor, Dan Onorato, in the president's box at a home football game during the campaign," Mr. Lewis said.
Kevin Harley, a spokesman for Mr. Corbett, dismissed the attorneys' accusations.
"Graham Spanier's statement is the ranting of a man who has just been indicted for covering up for a convicted pedophile," he said. "His arrogance reveals a man who has just found out that he is not above the law after all."
Anthony Lubrano, a member of Penn State's board of trustees, also questioned the timing.
"The timing of these charges seems rather curious to me. Hopefully, the decision to file the charges just days before the election was not politically motivated," he said.
But John Burkoff, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said bringing the charges now was logical.
"It made sense for the attorney general's office to decide what they wanted to do before [Ms. Kelly] becomes a lame duck," he said.
Further, Mr. Burkoff discounted Mr. Spanier's cries of a political vendetta. "I've always been impressed with the attorney general's integrity, and it's very hard for me to believe there was any political motivation at all in the bringing of these charges since they are so well laid out in the presentment."
Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, an alumni group also known as "PS4RS," said it had no comment on the news conference and new charges.
A day earlier, the group released a wide-ranging list of what it said were questions still unanswered nearly a year after Sandusky's Nov. 5 arrest.
Among those, the group asked why Sandusky was not arrested for nearly three years while Mr. Corbett was attorney general, suggesting there was a delay to act -- an assertion Mr. Corbett's office denies.
In response, Mr. Harley said the investigation's results -- a conviction on 45 of 48 counts -- vindicates its length.
"It took months to get victims to agree to testify and only after the case was taken to a state grand jury, which had the power of subpoena," he said. "The entire case had to be built around the testimony of young people, some with troubled pasts, against the word of a sports hero. This demanded thorough investigation and multiple witnesses."