HARRISBURG, Pa. — A jury found former Penn State University president Graham Spanier guilty of one misdemeanor count of child endangerment Friday, ending a case that dragged on for more than four years over whether Spanier and two other university executives covered up previous allegations made against former Penn State assistant football coach and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.
The jury, which began deliberations early Thursday afternoon, acquitted Spanier of a separate count of child endangerment and of conspiracy, but delivered a conviction on the other charge he faced, stemming from a 2001 incident in the Penn State locker room. Spanier, 68, offered no reaction when the verdict was announced.
Former Penn State vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley, who both originally faced the same charges as Spanier, struck deals with the prosecution earlier this month in which each pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of endangering children.
Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys. A longtime Penn State assistant football coach, he also ran a charity for at-risk children, the Second Mile, which he used to access a steady stream of victims, some of whom he brought back to the Penn State campus and assaulted in the locker room and showers for the football team. The case brought about an inglorious end to the career of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired days after Sandusky’s 2011 arrest and died months later, and sowed deep divisions in the Penn State community that remain today.
The case against Spanier focused on his role in two complaints that pre-dated Sandusky’s 2011 arrest: a 1998 report by a mother that Sandusky “bear-hugged” her son in the shower at Penn State, and a 2001 report by football graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who claims he witnessed Sandusky molesting a boy in the showers in the football facilities.
The 1998 report was investigated by law enforcement and child welfare authorities, who concluded Sandusky did not commit a crime. After the 2001 report from McQueary - the specifics of which are still disputed by McQueary, Schultz and Curley - Spanier and other Penn State leaders exchanged emails and agreed on a plan not to contact law enforcement or child welfare authorities, but rather to bar the then-retired coach from bringing children onto campus facilities, and to inform officials at Sandusky’s charity of the incident.
“The plan resulted in a sea of carnage,” said prosecutor Laura Ditka, whose witnesses included a 28-year-old Sandusky victim who testified he was assaulted in the same showers the year after McQueary’s report.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“Somebody should’ve thought about John Doe, whose life was changed because of what they didn’t do.”
Spanier, who did not testify, has said he did not know about the 1998 incident, even though he was copied on two emails about it at the time, and that in 2001 no one told him McQueary thought he had witnessed Sandusky sexually abusing a boy.
“If Gary Schultz or Tim Curley had said to me anything about child abuse, sexual abuse, anything criminal, even had hinted about that possibility, of course we would have said something,” Spanier said in a 2014 New York Times story. Schultz and Curley told him Sandusky and the boy had been engaged in “horseplay” in the shower, he said then.
Friday’s verdict came after two days of testimony from prosecution witnesses, including Schultz and Curley, who had faced the same charges as Spanier before agreeing to plea deals. Neither provided strong testimony bolstering the government’s case against Spanier. Schultz testified that he thought he told Spanier about the 1998 incident, but he couldn’t remember the specifics, and both men said they never told Spanier that Sandusky had been witnessed molesting a child, because McQueary didn’t tell them that.
In his closing argument, Spanier’s attorney Sam Silver called Curley and Schultz the prosecution’s “star witnesses” and said they made the best case for his client’s defense.
Silver presented no witnesses, instead consistently questioning prosecution witnesses in cross-examinations to show that none of them knew of Spanier being directly informed of an allegation of a sex crime against Sandusky, and none of them knew of Spanier preventing any of 10 or more other people aware of McQueary’s complaint from reporting Sandusky on their own.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that is a heck of a way to pull off a criminal conspiracy,” Silver said.
In her closing argument, Ditka asserted that Schultz and Curley were untruthful on the stand, and that actions by all three men indicated they knew the seriousness of what McQueary had witnessed.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!
You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.
“Anyone with a brain” could tell McQueary’s complaint was about a possible sex crime, Ditka said.
More than four years after Sandusky’s conviction, Spanier’s trial exposed how little the wounds resulting from Sandusky’s case and its aftermath have healed in the Penn State community.
In November 2012, former Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly announced the charges against Spanier, Curley and Schultz with great fanfare, standing in a front of a posterboard with mugshots of the three men under the heading “CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE.” The charges included obstruction of justice and perjury, related to Penn State’s inability to initially produce records of prior incidents involving Sandusky in response to a government subpoena, and statements the men made in grand jury testimony.
When the trial finally opened with jury selection Monday - delayed by years of appeals and the death of a judge - the charges were significantly reduced, and there were two fewer defendants. In January 2016, an appeals court threw out obstruction and perjury charges that hinged on the testimony of Penn State’s former general counsel Cynthia Baldwin, who Spanier and others thought was representing them during the grand jury proceedings. Then, earlier this month, Schultz and Curley both agreed to plea to one misdemeanor charge each of child endangerment.
Spanier, Penn State’s president from 1995 until he was forced out shortly after Sandusky’s 2011 arrest, watched stoically throughout the trial as prosecutors accused him of enabling a pedophile. Spanier is an abuse victim himself - he has said he needed several corrective facial surgeries as a result of routine belt lashings administered by his father. That a victim of child abuse could react as callously as prosecutors have alleged Spanier did to McQueary’s complaint is one of the many aspects of the case that has confounded friends and supporters.
Silver’s answer was that Spanier never met with McQueary, and the men who did - Schultz and Curley - did not describe McQueary’s complaint as an allegation of a sex crime.
In his testimony, McQueary was unequivocal about what he told Schultz and Curley days after he saw Sandusky, late at night, standing behind a boy in a shower, and heard “slapping sounds” that indicated “something more than a shower was going on.”
“I told them that I saw Jerry Sandusky molesting a boy,” McQueary said.
In response to cross-examination, McQueary acknowledged he may not have used those exact words, but he said he made it clear to his former superiors that he thought he’d witnessed child abuse.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“That’s the message I conveyed . . . I have never, ever used the word ‘horseplay’ in my life,” McQueary said.
Both Schultz and Curley disputed McQueary’s recollection, as they have in the past.