Another court case could delay PSU's healing

Gary Schultz , a former administrator, is charged along with the other two.
Gary Schultz , a former administrator, is charged along with the other two.
Posted: July 29, 2013

In the 13 months since a jury convicted Jerry Sandusky of being a serial sex abuser of young boys, the Pennsylvania State University community has struggled to pull itself from the mire of a scandal that at times seemed to have no end.

On Monday, whatever progress that has been made is likely to be put on hold again.

After a long series of legal delays, three former top university administrators, including Penn State's once-revered president, Graham B. Spanier, will be in court for a preliminary hearing on charges that they were complicit in a cover-up that permitted Sandusky to continue to prey on boys even after he was caught raping one in a Penn State locker-room shower.

Spanier, retired vice president Gary Schultz, and former athletic director Tim Curley are charged with perjury, child endangerment, obstruction, and failing to report abuse. The men could face prison if convicted. Lawyers for all three have said they are innocent.

Coming nine months after the three were indicted, the preliminary hearing in Dauphin County Court in Harrisburg will likely involve a rehashing of some of the sexual assaults Sandusky committed against the young boys he mentored through his charity for underprivileged youths. The court will also hear the now-well-known accusations that Spanier, Curley, and Schultz did little to stop Sandusky despite being aware of allegations against him.

But the hearing also will mark a major showing of evidence from prosecutors in the case - and the first step toward the day when the three administrators will finally have their opportunity to offer their formal defenses in court.

And that has been a moment long awaited by some who have felt Penn State - and its past leadership - has been unfairly tarred by Sandusky's crimes.

"It's certainly a long time coming," Maribeth Schmidt, spokeswoman for the grassroots group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, said last week. "Penn State and these men have already been tried in the court of public opinion, which is unfortunate and disappointing. A lot of that rests with the leaders of Penn State, who have never stood up and said, 'Stop the presses' or discouraged a rush to judgment."

Elizabeth Ainslie, one of several attorneys representing Spanier, said she and her client were looking forward to addressing the allegations in a courtroom setting.

"I think it will be something of a relief," said Ainslie, who last week lost a bid to get early access to a transcript of Spanier's grand jury testimony.

Caroline Roberto, attorney for Curley, echoed that in a statement.

"We look forward to vigorously challenging the charges at every stage," she said.

After Sandusky's arrest in November 2011 on charges of sexually abusing eight boys, the fallout swiftly spread to Spanier, who was fired, and Curley, who was suspended. Schultz had retired in 2009. The grand jury that investigated Sandusky also heard testimony from head coach Joe Paterno, who said he learned of a complaint that Sandusky had molested a boy in a campus shower, but that he did not inform police. Paterno was ultimately fired. He died several months later of cancer.

Penn State's board of trustees last year commissioned an independent report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh to determine who, if anyone, was at fault beyond Sandusky. Freeh's report accused Penn State's highest officials, including Paterno, of intentionally burying allegations against Sandusky to protect the school. Freeh declined to comment for this article.

The school also has suffered under strict sanctions handed down by the NCAA as a result of the scandal.

The Freeh report, the NCAA sanctions, and the dismissal of Paterno all contributed to an enormous rift within the Penn State community, with a large segment feeling the university and Paterno had been unfairly smeared.

Keith Masser, chairman for the university's board of trustees, did not return requests for comment, but he said in an interview with USA Today earlier this month that he and other school leaders did not "endorse" all of the findings in Freeh's report, and described some of the conclusions Freeh drew in his report as "speculation."

The forthcoming case against Spanier, Schultz, and Curley will finally offer a public airing of the unfiltered facts.

According to prosecutors, after a mother reported in 1998 that Sandusky had touched her son in a locker-room shower, Spanier, Curley, and Schultz monitored the resulting investigation by State College and Penn State police, even debriefing a police officer on the details of the case and discussing them among themselves by e-mail. No charges were filed, and prosecutors said Schultz locked away his notes and ordered his assistant never to look in the "Sandusky" file.

In a now-infamous 2001 incident, graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno that he had walked in on Sandusky assaulting a boy in a campus shower. After being told of the incident by Paterno, Spanier, Curley, and Schultz decided together not to notify authorities, prosecutors said. Curley, in an e-mail, said he would talk to Sandusky and try to get him "professional help."

In another e-mail, Spanier deemed the approach "humane" but also expressed concern that not reporting the incident could come back to damage the school.

Attorneys have said Monday's hearing could spill over to Tuesday or possibly even longer. Prosecutors could read sections of Spanier's grand jury testimony as evidence and may call investigators as witnesses.

None of the accused is expected to testify.

Sandusky is now serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence. The university has reached tentative settlements with most of Sandusky's victims.

And Penn State has implemented many of the recommendations to improve safety and governance that were made in the Freeh report, school spokesman David La Torre said.

Asked whether the court case could impede the school's efforts to move forward, La Torre declined to comment.

"Penn State has focused on making important changes to its administration and governance," Le Torre said. "Significant reforms in campus security, athletics, and compliance have been implemented over the past year. ... The Board of Trustees also has implemented a number of important governance reforms to ensure it will be more open and efficient."


Contact Allison Steele at 610-313-8113 or asteele@phillynews.com.

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