Experts: Ex-PSU president could still face charges
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Penn State’s ousted university president is quietly awaiting a decision on whether he will face criminal prosecution in the Jerry Sandusky scandal while two former subordinates fight charges they tried to cover up the former defensive coordinator’s sexual molestation of boys.
Lawyers for Tim Curley, once the school’s athletic director, and Gary Schultz, an ex-university vice president, on Thursday attacked the case against their clients as lacking in detail and substance during a 90-minute court hearing in which they asked a judge to prevent it from going to trial.
“We’re confident we’re going to win this case, before the judge, before the jury, if need be,” Schultz’s lawyer, Thomas J. Farrell, told reporters at a pretrial hearing at Dauphin County Court in Harrisburg.
Judge Todd Hoover did not immediately rule on a defense motion to dismiss perjury charges against Curley and Schultz.
Graham Spanier, the longtime university president felled by the Sandusky scandal, has not been charged with a crime. But that doesn’t mean he’s in the clear, according to lawyers unaffiliated with the case.
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s university-commissioned report that accused the ex-president – along with Curley, Schultz and football coach Joe Paterno – of covering up a 2001 abuse allegation against Sandusky could help lay the groundwork for criminal charges, legal experts said.
The report “suggests potential liability for Spanier,” said Paul DerOhannesian, an Albany, N.Y., defense attorney and former sex-crimes prosecutor.
“If I was in the state AG’s office, I would seriously be looking at” a criminal case against Spanier, said another defense lawyer, Will Spade, a former Philadelphia prosecutor who worked on a grand jury investigation of priests about a decade ago.
A spokesman in the attorney general’s office declined to comment, citing an “ongoing and active investigation” into the Sandusky matter.
Asked whether he expects Spanier to face charges, Spanier’s attorney, Peter Vaira said, “I have no idea.”
There could be a number of reasons why prosecutors haven’t moved against Spanier, who led Penn State for 16 years until leaving office under a cloud four days after Sandusky’s November arrest. Prosecutors could have evidence that contradicts the findings of last month’s Freeh report, for example. Or they could be taking time to strengthen a potential case against Spanier, DerOhannesian said.
“There is nothing particularly unusual in no charges yet filed,” he said via email. “After all, how many years did it take any prosecutor to charge Jerry Sandusky?”
Sandusky, the longtime architect of Paterno’s football defense, was convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys.
Curley and Schultz are fighting charges they lied to a grand jury about the extent of their knowledge of the 2001 allegation against Sandusky, and that they failed to report suspected child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.
Lawyers for the state attorney general’s office declined to comment Thursday, but prosecutor Bruce Beemer suggested during the hearing that his office is confident it can prove the perjury counts against Curley and Schultz. Another defense motion – seeking dismissal of the failure-to-report charges on grounds that the statute of limitations has run out – was not argued Thursday.
No trial date has been set.
Spanier, meanwhile, has kept a low profile since the early days of the scandal that cost Paterno his job, tarnished Penn State’s reputation and led to unprecedented NCAA sanctions against the football program.
What is known is that he has performed top-secret national security consulting work for the federal government in recent months. His security clearance underwent a four-month review after Sandusky’s arrest, and was reaffirmed – proof, suggested Spanier, that he has done nothing wrong.
Spanier also remains a tenured faculty member at Penn State, although he is on sabbatical until December and it is unclear whether he will return. University spokesman Dave La Torre would only say that Spanier’s “status is under review.”
There’s no indication that Penn State has launched disciplinary proceedings against Spanier, who did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
The release of the Freeh report has raised questions about Spanier’s handling of the 2001 allegation by a former graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, who caught Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the Penn State football showers.
Spanier, in his five-hour interview with Freeh, told investigators that Schultz and Curley gave him few details of the incident, telling him only that Sandusky had been “horsing around” with a boy. Spanier said he told Curley that Sandusky would be banned from bringing youths into Penn State showers.
“Had I known then what we now know about Jerry Sandusky … I would have strongly and immediately intervened,” Spanier, whose professional expertise is in family therapy and sociology, wrote in a July 23 letter to the Penn State board of trustees. “Never would I stand by for a moment to allow a child predator to hurt children.”
Yet the Freeh investigation uncovered documents that seem to indicate Spanier had deeper knowledge, including an email in which the president appeared to agree with Curley’s decision to keep the 2001 assault from child-welfare authorities, and instead work directly with Sandusky and Sandusky’s charity for at-risk youths.
“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” said Spanier’s email, dated Feb. 27, 2001. “The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”
Spanier has denounced the Freeh report as “full of factual errors,” asserting it took the email out of context and “jumps to conclusions that are untrue and unwarranted.”
Spanier has retained the title of president emeritus. La Torre, the Penn State spokesman, said Spanier is contractually entitled to it.
In a July 23 letter, the once-powerful and nationally regarded president lamented that his reputation has been “profoundly damaged.” He asked the board of trustees for an audience so he could give his side.
So far, he’s gotten no response.
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