Penn State ‘not on trial’ with Sandusky, but officials draw flak

Posted: June 16, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - From the start of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial, lead prosecutor Joseph McGettigan sought to make one thing clear.

"Pennsylvania State University is not on trial here," he told jurors in his opening statements Monday.

And as he laid out his case against the college's former assistant football coach this week, McGettigan largely stuck to that promise.

But while Penn State may have dodged a bullet inside the Bellefonte, Pa., courtroom where Sandusky is fighting 52 counts of child sex abuse this week, outside prosecutors continued to haul blame right up to the steps of Old Main.

News broke Monday of e-mail conversations in which former President Graham B. Spanier and two other top university officials debated whether to alert authorities about a 2001 incident involving Sandusky and a 10-year-old boy.

Meanwhile, prosecutors alleged that their initial assessment of perjury charges against former university Vice President Gary Schultz only scratched the surface of his dishonesty when he told grand jurors last year he was misinformed about the severity of Sandusky's purported crimes.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson has made transparency and commitment to child abuse research planks of his administration since taking over in Spanier's wake.

But up until recently, "Penn State - to be frank - was not very quick to get us information," said Anthony Sassano, an investigator for the attorney general's office in charge of the Sandusky case.

His comments - describing evidence authorities found in the coach's old Penn State office, a room to which they were only recently given access - came Thursday, while on the witness stand in the former coach's trial.

They were about as scathing as it got for the university as the trial progressed.

Though much of the focus in the days after Sandusky's arrest centered on what Penn State officials knew about previous allegations and when, testimony in the courtroom this week remained focused on 10 purported victims of sexual abuse and one alleged sexual predator.

Even Mike McQueary - a former Penn State assistant football coach who says he saw Sandusky in 2001 sodomizing a 10-year-old boy in a locker room shower - made little mention of the various university officials to whom he reported the incident.

"I did not get overwhelmingly into detail," the 37-year-old said Tuesday, recalling his conversation with head football coach Joe Paterno. "But I made it extremely clear, making sure he knew it was sexual, it was wrong, it was perverse."

Common Pleas Court Judge John M. Cleland scuttled McQueary's testimony along before discussion could delve too deeply into what Paterno did or didn't do with that information.

As outlined in a grand jury report issued last year, McQueary reported the incident to Paterno the morning after he allegedly saw it.

Paterno in turn notified then-Athletic Director Tim Curley and Schultz, the university vice president in charge of the campus police - though both later told grand jurors that they were unaware that McQueary had lodged specific allegations of sexual abuse.

Both men now stand charged with perjury and failing to report a crime. Both have denied the charges.

While Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January, and Spanier, who described his understanding of McQueary's account as mere "horseplay," were not criminally charged, both lost their jobs days after Sandusky's arrest for failing to do more to investigate.

When McQueary's father, John, took the stand in Sandusky's trial Wednesday and began to describe subsequent conversations he had with Schultz weeks after his son made his initial report, prosecutors quickly cut him off.

"Mr. Schultz said he had heard noise about (Sandusky and) these sorts of things before," the elder McQueary managed to get out before he was silenced.

But according to a motion filed in Schultz's case Monday, the former vice president may have known much more.

Prosecutors noted that among documents the university only recently handed over to an investigating grand jury was a file containing notes on "incidents involving Sandusky."

Schultz's attorney Thomas J. Farrell denied his client withheld the file, saying it was Penn State's responsibility to hand it over since he left it in his office when he retired last year.

"All his files . . . were available to his secretaries and his successor," Farrell said.

Meanwhile, it became increasingly clear this week that Spanier's role in discussions of the McQueary incident has emerged as a subject of interest for grand jurors.

Sources said this week that the university is preparing for charges to be filed against its former president in light of the 2001 e-mail conversations between him, Curley and Schultz.

The documents were discovered by a group hired by Penn State's trustees to investigate the university's handling of the Sandusky scandal. That panel is expected to release its findings as soon as next month, said a source familiar with its progress.

One e-mail included the suggestion it would be "humane" to avoid reporting Sandusky to authorities.

It was not clear from document whether Spanier thought the incident was merely "horseplay" as he later described it to the grand jury or if he understood McQueary's accusation involved allegations of rape, according to a source familiar with it.

Prosecutors said in court filings that the e-mail chain also provided further statements that contradict Curley and Schultz's earlier grand jury testimony about what they knew. They would not specify, citing the ongoing investigation.

Spanier's lawyer Peter Vaira did not return calls for comment this week.

Lawyers representing Curley and Schultz issued an explanation on their clients' behalf.

"This information confirms that ... Tim Curley and Gary Schultz conscientiously considered Mike McQueary's reports of observing inappropriate conduct, reported it to . . . Spanier and deliberated about how to ... handle the situation properly," they said.

Their case is expected to head to trial early next year. Sandusky's trial resumes Monday.

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Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218 or jroebuck@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @jeremyrroebuck.

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