HARRISBURG -- Calling it "a tragic day for Penn State University, to say the least," a judge has ordered three former Penn State officials to stand trial on charges related to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The decision followed two days of testimony in a Harrisburg courtroom filled with reporters, Penn State trustees, attorneys for Sandusky's victims and others.
Former university president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz are charged with perjury, endangering the welfare of children, obstructing justice, conspiracy and failure to report suspected child abuse.
A trial for the three men is not expected until next spring, one defense attorney estimated.
Prosecutors allege the three engaged in a "conspiracy of silence" by not reporting what they knew about an allegation of a locker room assault by Sandusky in 2001. Sandusky is now in prison serving a 30- to 60-year sentence on 45 counts of child sex abuse.
All three men have said they are innocent, and their attorneys emphasized that Tuesday.
"This was not a trial, this was a preliminary hearing," said Timothy Lewis, one of Mr. Spanier's attorneys, following the proceedings.
The heart of the prosecution's case centers around a now-infamous 2001 incident: Then-graduate assistant football coach Mike McQueary witnessed a late-night sexual assault of a young boy by Sandusky in a Penn State locker room. Mr. McQueary shortly thereafter met with Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz to tell them about the incident, he testified Monday.
Defense attorneys on Tuesday attacked Mr. McQueary's testimony as unreliable.
"Every time [Mr. McQueary] testifies, he says something more, or different," said Caroline Roberto, one of Mr. Curley's attorneys.
Prosecutors allege a series of emails between Mr. Spanier, Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley show they made a decision to not report the incident Mr. McQueary saw to the police or child welfare authorities.
One email from Mr. Spanier dated Feb. 27, 2001 -- a few weeks after the assault -- read, in part: "The only downside for us is if the message isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and then we become vulnerable for not having reported it."
Additionally, the day after learning about the allegations of the assault, Mr. Schultz spoke with an attorney who did work for the university, according to billing documents from the law firm prosecutors put forth Tuesday.
"Conference with G. Schultz re reporting of suspected child abuse; Legal research re same; Conference with G. Schultz," the documents state.
Prosecutors painted both Mr. Spanier and Mr. Schultz as demanding, detail-oriented executives who, once becoming aware of serious allegations against a prominent leader in the football program, could not possibly have not followed up on them or not learned more.
During the hearing Tuesday, the court heard from a Penn State spokeswoman who described reporters' inquiries in 2010 and 2011 into past investigations of Sandusky's behavior and about top university administrators being called to testify before a grand jury.
"I didn't know what a grand jury was," said Lisa Powers, the university's director of public information. "I only knew it as something that happened with the mafia."
Ms. Powers also described the atmosphere in her office in the days immediately prior to and after Sandusky, Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz were indicted in November, 2011.
She said she and others in the school's public information department were shocked at the unconditional support Mr. Spanier's public statements offered Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz. At the same time, she said, the first statement Mr. Spanier drafted after the news became public showed "no indication of empathy, or any concern expressed" for Sandusky's victims.
It was a chaotic time, she testified.
"I would characterize it as all Hell broke loose," she told the court.
Kate Giammarise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise. First Published July 30, 2013 3:30 PM