HARRISBURG, Pa. — A jury found former Pennsylvania 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 predated Sandusky’s 2011 arrest: a 1998 report by a mother that Sandusky gave her son a “bear hug” in the shower at Penn State and a 2001 report by football graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who said 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. Instead, they decided to bar the then-retired coach from bringing children to 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.
“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. 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 cross-examining prosecution witnesses to show that none of them knew of Spanier being directly informed of an allegation of a sex crime against Sandusky and that 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.
“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 poster board with mug shots of the three men under the heading “CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE.” The charges included obstruction of justice and perjury, related to Penn State’s initial inability to produce records of previous 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 deals.
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 had witnessed child abuse.
“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.
Several other witnesses testified that they spoke with Curley and Schultz in 2001, and neither described McQueary’s report as sexual in nature or possible child abuse. Jack Raykovitz, former chief executive of the defunct Second Mile, said Curley told him someone “felt uncomfortable seeing Jerry Sandusky in a shower with a young male.”
Penn State alumni have long questioned why university officials and not Second Mile officials have faced criminal charges in connection to Sandusky’s abuse. In his turn at the stand, Raykovitz said he was unaware the 2001 incident was the second time someone had expressed concern about Sandusky showering with a child. (Curley disputed this and said he told Raykovitz in 2001 about the 1998 incident as well).
After he met with Curley, Raykovitz said, he told Sandusky he should wear swim trunks when showering with boys.
Paterno was not on trial this week, but his name came up repeatedly in testimony. Thousands of alumni have expressed outrage about the board of trustee’s decisions to fire Paterno with a phone call and accept the findings of an independent investigation that concluded the famed coach, Spanier and others prioritized preserving the university’s image over protecting children.
Franco Harris, the NFL Hall of Fame fullback, was among several prominent alumni to attend the trial in Spanier’s support. For years, Harris has called for a formal apology to the Paterno family.
In 2001, when Curley emailed the others and explained he decided against reporting Sandusky to authorities, he wrote he arrived at the decision “after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday.” On the stand this week, Curley said it was his decision alone not to report Sandusky and Paterno did not influence him, as some of inferred from that email.
For those convinced the coach tarnished his legacy by not personally informing law enforcement of McQueary’s complaint in 2001, the last criminal trial connected to the scandal likely did little to change the minds.
A consistent theme in Silver’s defense against the conspiracy charge facing Spanier was that many people knew about McQueary’s complaint — and Spanier never told any of them not to talk to authorities. In his closing argument, Silver displayed a list of those people on a projector screen.
Among them: McQueary; his father, John McQueary; their family friend Jonathan Dranov; Raykovitz; three board members at the Second Mile; and Paterno.
“Not one of these people ever said they were told by Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz or Tim Curley that they should keep quiet or keep their mouths shut,” Silver said.