(This story has been updated.)
Three former Pennsylvania State University administrators, including former president Graham Spanier, were each sentenced to serve at least two months in jail Friday for failing to alert law enforcement about a 2001 incident involving retired football coach Jerry Sandusky and a boy in a campus shower. The sentences marked one of the final rulings from the criminal justice system on the shocking saga of missed opportunities to stop a sexual predator associated with one of America’s most storied college football programs.
In a surprise, Spanier — the only one of the three to take his case to trial earlier this year — actually received the lightest sentence: four to 12 months, with the first two in jail and the remainder served under house arrest. Former university athletic director Tim Curley, 63, received a sentence of seven to 23 months, with three in jail, while former former vice president Gary Schultz, 67, was sentenced to six to 23 months, with two months in jail. All three men were convicted of the same misdemeanor charge of child endangerment, but Curley and Schultz both reached plea agreements and testified at Spanier’s trial in March.
Sandusky, 73, was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing boys he accessed through his Second Mile charity for at-risk children, some of whom he brought back to Penn State’s campus. Penn State has reached private settlements with more than 30 Sandusky victims, and at least four have said they were assaulted after the 2001 incident, of which the Penn State administrators decided not to alert law enforcement.
“Why Mr. Sandusky was allowed to continue to the Penn State facilities is beyond me,” Judge John Boccabella said. “All three ignored the opportunity to put an end to [Sandusky’s] crimes when they had a chance to do so.”
Boccabella also criticized legendery Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, whose 45-year career ended ignominously with his firing days after Sandusky’s 2011 indictment. Paterno, who like the other administrators failed to alert authorities to the 2001 complaint, was never charged with a crime. Boccabella said Paterno “could have made that phone call without so much as getting his hands dirty. Why he didn’t is beyond me.”
The three former Penn State officials all apologized for their actions and to Sandusky’s victims before the sentences were handed down.
“I deeply regret that I did not intervene more forcefully,” said Spanier, who did not testify at his trial.
“I am very remorseful I did not comprehend the severity of the situation. I sincerely apologize to the victims and to all who were impacted because of my mistake,” Curley said.
“It really sickens me to think I might have played a part in children being hurt. I’m sorry that I didn’t do more, and I apologize to the victims,” Schultz said.
Prosecutors strongly criticized all three men, particularly Spanier.
“He was a complete and utter failure as a leader when it mattered most,” prosecutor Laura Ditka said.
Prosecutors had been seeking nine to 18 months of jail for Spanier, while defense attorneys had asked for probation and community service, citing his advanced age and health issues that include prostate cancer and imminent open-heart surgery.
The three men initially faced more serious charges, including obstruction of justice and perjury, that an appeals court dismissed in 2016 with a ruling the men had been improperly represented during grand jury testimony. Penn State’s former university counsel, Cynthia Baldwin, who the men thought was representing them personally, actually represented only the university and eventually testified against them in grand jury proceedings. Spanier also had been charged with felony child endangerment and conspiracy, but a jury in March acquitted him on both counts.
Spanier’s case revolved around a still-debated 2001 incident in which former graduate assistant football coach Mike McQueary said he witnessed Sandusky molesting a boy in the showers in the Penn State football locker room. Curley, Schultz and Spanier initially agreed on a plan to inform law enforcement, but then decided instead to bar Sandusky, who had retired in 1997, from bringing children onto campus, and inform Second Mile leadership of the incident. The e-mails the men exchanged in 2001 — in which Curley suggested changing the plan and Spanier agreed — formed the core of the prosecution’s case. Sandusky was not arrested until 2011, after an anonymous email to a county prosecutor. As a result of the Sandusky case, the university has paid out nearly a quarter-billion dollars in fines, court verdicts, settlements and other costs.
Curley and Schultz have said that McQueary never told them he had witnessed a sex crime and that McQueary had reported seeing Sandusky engaged only in “horseplay” with the child. Paterno, who was fired in the aftermath of Sandusky’s 2011 indictment and died of lung cancer months later, testified he thought McQueary witnessed something sexual, and he urged McQueary to report the incident to Curley.
Despite reaching plea agreements with the prosecution and testifying against Spanier in March, both Schultz and Curley maintained essentially the same defense they’ve stated for years. Both testified McQueary did not tell them he had witnessed Sandusky molesting a boy. Spanier never met with McQueary, and heard about the incident through Curley and Schultz.
In a particularly combative turn at the stand for a prosecution witness, Curley testified that he didn’t remember many of the pivotal conversations that led up to the 2001 decision, including his conversations with Paterno. In sentencing memos to the judge this week, prosecutors criticized Curley for the “astonishing” gaps in his memory.
During the trial, Spanier’s attorney Sam Silver asked Curley, if he still didn’t believe he’d committed a crime in 2001, why he had decided to plea guilty.
“I pleaded guilty because I felt like I should have done more,” Curley said.