Bob Ford: Sandusky trial the easy part of meting out justice in scandal

Posted: June 22, 2012

Convicting Jerry Sandusky would be the easy part of sorting out and bringing to justice those who took part in the alleged rape of children, either actively or by looking the other way.

Any untainted jury, confronted with the preponderance of evidence in this case and the absence of a credible defense, would convict Sandusky on a majority of the 48 counts he faces. The jury that heard the weeklong case is now in deliberation and, barring a procedural issue, is expected to return its verdict within days. Unless there is a major upset, the Tickle Monster will be found guilty and then some. That's the easy part.

But the forces that conspired to allow Sandusky free rein on the campus of Pennsylvania State University for way too long are just as guilty as Sandusky. If prosecuted and convicted, they will be found guilty of different crimes, but had they acted differently fewer children would have been molested.

That's about as clearly as it can be put. If people had done the right thing, fewer children would have been hurt. Getting that side of the equation brought to justice will be the difficult part, however, because the walls of power are high, and those who inhabit them have resources that enable them to remain inside.

As the commonwealth pursues criminal charges against Penn State administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, and very possibly against former school president Graham B. Spanier, it will become increasingly difficult to obtain convictions from a local jury.

While Sandusky can be easily put away as a rogue freak who passed among us, Schultz, Curley, and Spanier were the very cloth of the community, and if that can be rended, what does it say about the community? If the all-encompassing influence over the region - Penn State - can be demonstrated to be morally bankrupt at its core, then what about the rest of us?

A jury can slam the door on Sandusky, who was willing to answer fully to Bob Costas but not to the people of the commonwealth, but what will happen when Schultz, Curley, and Spanier ask their peers to understand how difficult it is to steer this large ship that carries so much that is good?

Yes, that will be the difficult part, and twice difficult because it will once again take the conversation in the vicinity of Joe Paterno, a place where emotion has trumped common sense in the past.

At the least, it seems that Schultz, the former vice president for business and finance; Curley, the athletic director who remains on leave but employed by Penn State; and Spanier, who was fired in November, have some answering to do because of their testimony to the grand jury investigating the allegations against Sandusky.

Schultz and Curley told much the same story, that they knew only about the 2001 incident in the Lasch Football Building that was reported to them, through Paterno, by assistant coach Mike McQueary. While it was worth looking into, McQueary's version didn't sound like anything took place aside from a little "horseplay," according to Schultz and Curley, who didn't report it to child-protection authorities.

As for Spanier, he said he knew even less, and while he signed off on an order that Sandusky not be allowed to bring children on campus any longer, he said he didn't ask why and further said he had no idea anything potentially sexual in nature was involved.

It all sounded very reasonable until former FBI director Louie Freeh began poking around on campus after being hired by the board of trustees. Since that investigation began, Freeh was able to recover e-mails between Spanier and Schultz that were thought to have been deleted permanently.

The evidence was turned over to the Attorney General's Office, and, according to published reports, the e-mails make it clear that Spanier might not have been accurate in his recollection to the grand jury. In one e-mail, Spanier is alleged to have written that turning in Sandusky wouldn't be the "humane" thing to do. Oh, boy.

It also turns out that Schultz, who was in charge of the campus police force, kept a detailed file on Sandusky. That is in the hands of state prosecutors, too, along with a lot of other stuff Freeh keeps finding. According to the Attorney General's Office, the documents in the file are "inconsistent" with the grand jury testimony offered by Schultz and Curley.

Well, that sounds like there is some serious lawyering to be done soon, and it also sounds as if the victims in the Sandusky case have a wealth of possible targets if some of them choose to pursue civil lawsuits. A large part of Sandusky's defense in court revolved around a supposed conspiracy among the 10 victims to cash in on Sandusky's fondness for "horseplay." It was a far-fetched tale as told by attorney Joe Amendola, but it was the best he had.

If the victims do decide to take civil action, Sandusky would be merely a small player in the game. He has a house and a pension, but you could make a good case that those who were victimized after the 2001 incident on campus could just as easily blame the school. Spanier, Schultz, and Curley were acting as administrators for Penn State, and if they go down in court, the school will have serious civil exposure as a result.

All of which is why getting justice for Sandusky is the easy part of this mess. Now, it gets tougher. Money and power always make things tougher.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @bobfordsports. Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.philly.com/postpatterns

 We invite you to comment on this story by clicking here. Comments will be moderated.

|
|
|
|
|