Former Penn State president says he never knew Sandusky was abusing boys sexually

Graham B. Spanier's lawyers (from left) Elizabeth K. Ainslie, Peter F. Vaira, Jack E. Riley, and Timothy K. Lewis leave a Philadelphia news conference.
Graham B. Spanier's lawyers (from left) Elizabeth K. Ainslie, Peter F. Vaira, Jack E. Riley, and Timothy K. Lewis leave a Philadelphia news conference. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 24, 2012

Former Pennsylvania State University president Graham B. Spanier insisted Wednesday that he at no time knew of Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of boys and would have acted to stop him had he known.

In his first public statements since his resignation last year, he told ABC News that the idea that he and others at Penn State covered up Sandusky's crimes was "absolutely wrong." He marshaled his own history of childhood physical abuse to suggest his sensitivity to the issue.

"I've never met anyone who has a higher level of awareness of such issues than I have," he said. "I wish in hindsight that I would have known more about Jerry Sandusky and his terrible, terrible hidden past so I could have intervened."

Spanier's statements came as part of a media blitz that started with a news conference in Philadelphia featuring his team of lawyers and continued with the ABC interview and the publishing of an earlier interview with the New Yorker. (Spanier canceled scheduled interviews Wednesday with The Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

What emerged was his first comprehensive rebuttal to allegations that he and other top Penn State administrators sought to bury the former assistant football coach's crimes while a state grand jury continues to scrutinize Spanier's actions.

Asked whether the possibility of criminal charges prompted Spanier to break his silence nine months after Sandusky's arrest, attorney John E. Riley said he did not know whether his client would be charged.

"We don't think there's a scintilla of evidence to support an indictment," he said.

At the news conference, lawyer Timothy K. Lewis criticized Penn State's investigation into its handling of the Sandusky case, calling it everything from "pure sophistry" and "nothing short of absurd" to a "blundering and indefensible indictment led by a biased investigator."

The probe - commissioned by university trustees and headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh - failed to interview key witnesses, took words out of context, and ignored inconvenient evidence to reach a predetermined conclusion that a cover-up occurred, Lewis said.

"It is now apparent that Freeh was not an independent investigator but a self-anointed accuser, who in his zeal to protect victims of wrongdoing from a monster recklessly and without justification created victims of his own," Lewis said.

Freeh's team said Wednesday it stood by its work.

In its report, released last month, the team alleged that Spanier and other top officials - including former head football coach Joe Paterno, suspended athletic director Tim Curley, and former university vice president Gary Schultz - decided not to report early allegations against Sandusky for fear of bad publicity.

But Spanier's attorneys on Wednesday seized on several e-mails Freeh used to draw that conclusion, including two sent to the former college head following 1998 allegations that Sandusky had inappropriately showered with two boys.

Spanier said that he did not recall reading, and might not have received, either e-mail. But even if he had, said Lewis, Centre County authorities declined to press charges after a full investigation by university police.

"There was thus nothing to conceal," he said.

Freeh cited the e-mails to suggest that Spanier's knowledge of that investigation should have influenced his decisions three years later, when graduate assistant Mike McQueary said he had walked in on Sandusky showering with a 10-year-old boy.

McQueary has maintained that he told Paterno, Curley, and Schultz that what he saw was "extremely sexual." But Spanier reiterated Wednesday his insistence that he never knew the accusation amounted to anything more than "horseplay."

Freeh's report quoted several e-mails among the administrators as they debated how to respond. Although they floated reporting Sandusky to authorities, the group dropped the idea and decided to speak directly to Sandusky.

Lewis said the conclusion was not surprising considering none of the men thought anything reportable had occurred.

"In 2012, it's not too difficult to look back and, knowing what we know about Jerry Sandusky now, want the president of the university to take some action," he said.

Lewis' prosecutorial tone on Wednesday was as notable as the substance of his remarks. In lambasting Freeh, Spanier's attorney pointed to his own credentials as a former federal judge and repeatedly emphasized the pedigrees of his colleagues, who include former U.S. Attorneys Peter F. Vaira and Jack E. Riley.

Spanier's legal team said Freeh twisted words and failed to talk to Jonathan Dranov, a physician friend of McQueary's and a defense witness called at Sandusky's June trial.

In a report accompanying their presentation, Spanier's lawyers said Dranov testified that he had repeatedly asked McQueary in 2001 whether what he saw in the shower was sexual and that each time McQueary said no.

In his testimony, Dranov told jurors that McQueary described "sexual sounds but didn't give a graphic account."

"I didn't use the term Did you see a sexual act?" Dranov testified in June. "I just asked him three times, 'What did you see?' He kept saying, 'Sexual sounds.' "

Spanier took a more contemplative and thoughtful tone in his wide-ranging New Yorker interview. In addition to calling the Freeh report "deeply flawed," he discussed his relationship with Paterno - who, he said, had signed a contract to retire this year before the Sandusky scandal led to his ouster.

"He was very personable," Spanier told the magazine. "He had the most remarkable memory of any human being I've ever met. . . . He also had tremendous energy. He was always trying to do the right thing."

Spanier also said he barely knew Sandusky and had only spoken to him on occasion before last year.

He expressed regret for the effects of his decisions on Penn State and the surrounding community.

"There are times when I am in a mode of substantial grief about what happened to those kids," he said. "And then I switch into times of grieving for myself, my colleagues, the Paterno family, who I know so well, and the community that's suffering here. . . . Everybody's connected and everybody's intertwined, and this is a trauma in so many ways and so many levels."


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

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