Pennsylvania State University
Jury finds Penn State ex-president Graham Spanier guilty on one count of child endangerment
By Carter Walker
Former Penn State University President Graham Spanier was convicted Friday of not doing enough to stop Jerry Sandusky, whose crimes rocked the university and sent the school spiraling into the darkest period in its history.
After two days of deliberations, the seven-woman, five-man jury found Spanier guilty of one count of misdemeanor child endangerment, but acquitted him of felony conspiracy and a second felony child endangerment count.
Spanier, 68, showed no emotion as the verdict was read. The jury deliberated for 13 hours before rendering its verdict. He could get up to five years in prison, but his lawyer said he plans to appeal. No sentencing date was set.
Spanier originally was charged with felony counts of child endangerment and conspiracy, but the charge for which he was convicted was downgraded to a misdemeanor because jurors felt they could not prove a course of conduct to commit the crime.
Spanier did not speak to reporters after the verdict and the defense team left after giving a very brief statement.
In 2012, Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse and is serving a 30-to-60-year prison sentence. The scandal led to the firing of head football coach Joe Paterno, the resignation of Spanier, and the paying out of more than $90 million by the college to settle claims by 33 Sandusky victims.
The entire Penn State community felt the impact of Sandusky’s crimes and the subsequent resignations and firings. The school was fined $48 million by the NCAA, the football program was hit with heavy sanctions, and Paterno’s squeaky-clean image was besmirched.
“I hope that no matter what all of our opinions on this issue are, we can begin to move forward and start the healing process,” said Terry Ford, president of the student body government.
Spanier was originally to stand trial with two co-defendants, former Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz, but the two pleaded guilty last week to misdemeanor child endangerment as part of an agreement to testify against Spanier.
“Penn State has extraordinary expectations of our leaders, who must set and maintain the example for reporting, ethics and compliance that reflect best practices,” Penn State said in a statement. “In the view of the jury, with respect to Spanier, and by their own admission, as to Curley and Schultz, these former leaders fell short. And while we cannot undo the past, we have re-dedicated ourselves and our university to act always with the highest integrity, in affirming the shared values of our community.”
While testifying, Curley and Schultz each expressed regret for not acting sooner in reporting Sandusky’s crimes, though they gave vastly different stories as to who knew what when.
“They had information of young boys being sexually abused by Sandusky,” state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a late afternoon news conference, talking about Spanier, Curley and Schultz. “Instead of reporting it to authorities, they consciously turned their backs and the abuse continued. … There are zero excuses when it comes to reporting the abuse of children to authorities.”
Prosecutor Laura Ditka of the attorney general’s office said the high point of the case was that one of Sandusky’s victims had the courage to testify. Ditka went on to say, in an answer to a question at a post-trial news conference, that she was not satisfied with the testimonies of Curley and Schultz, but was not surprised because they were co-conspirators.
During their 13-hour deliberation, jurors had a number of questions for Senior Judge John Boccabella. Two of the questions were to clarify the legal definitions for “reckless” and what constitutes “supervision” as they relate to the endangerment charges.
“I can’t say I’ve ever had a jury who was more intelligent in asking questions that were at the core of the issues,” Boccabella said.
The charges against Spanier stem from a 2001 incident, witnessed by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, in which he saw Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, sexually assaulting a boy in a Penn State shower. The prosecution claimed that because Spanier, Curley and Schultz did not report the incident, it enabled Sandusky to assault future victims.
The prosecution put 15 witnesses on the stand to testify to their knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes and also to what level of involvement, if any, Spanier had in covering them up. The defense called no witnesses and rested its case Thursday morning, saying the prosecution had not proved that Spanier had committed a crime.
Curley, Schultz and Spanier initially agreed to a three-point plan after hearing of the 2001 shower assault. The plan involved confronting Sandusky about the incident and barring him from bringing children on campus, informing The Second Mile — a charity Sandusky founded — and contacting the Department of Public Welfare.
Curley admitted that Sandusky was never barred from bringing children onto campus and Schultz said DPW was not contacted.
Both regretted not following through on those actions.
“We should have followed the original plan,” Schultz said Wednesday. “It should have been reported to DPW. … It was the right thing to do.”
Among the prosecution’s witnesses was a man called “John Doe,” a survivor of a 2002 sexual assault by Sandusky in a Penn State shower. The timing of that assault is critical because it came after the 2001 shower incident and demonstrated that Sandusky continued to prey on children.
Much of the prosecution’s case was focused on emails exchanged among the three administrators. In one late February 2001 chain, they discussed the incident McQueary saw and how they should handle it.
Spanier approved having Curley tell Sandusky to stop bringing children onto campus and inform The Second Mile. Spanier approved putting the notification to DPW on hold, but that agency was never contacted. Informing DPW became contingent on talking with Sandusky first, and that failure was a key part of the charges against the three men.
“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” Spanier said in a reply to Schultz. “But that can be assessed down the road.”
Defense attorney Sam Silver maintained the case involved judgment calls by high-ranking officials and nothing more.
“They made judgment calls; they did not engage in a crime,” Silver said. “Graham, Gary and Tim made decisions they thought were appropriate at the time.”
In the prosecution’s rebuttal, Ditka appealed to the jurors’ “common sense” in deciding whether to convict Spanier.
Ditka pointed to Spanier’s education and background to show that he should have known there was a crime against children occurring.
“For God’s sake, he’s a family and child therapist,” She said. “They knew what to do.”