HARRISBURG, Pa. >> Jury selection is set to begin on Monday in the trial of Penn State’s former president on charges that children were put at risk by how he responded to child sex abuse complaints about Jerry Sandusky more than 15 years ago.
Graham Spanier’s trial could last a week or more and might bring to the stand as prosecution witnesses two of his former top lieutenants who recently struck plea bargains.
Spanier, 68, is accused of two counts of endangering the welfare of children and a single conspiracy charge, all felonies. Former Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley pleaded guilty last week to a single misdemeanor count of child endangerment, and await sentencing.
The charges stem from their handling of a report in 2001 that Sandusky, a retired assistant football coach, had apparently molested a boy in a team shower. Prosecutors say their failure to report the incident to authorities allowed Sandusky to continue to abuse boys, one in the team shower, and also endangered others.
Sandusky was not arrested until 2011, after prosecutors got an anonymous tip about the shower incident, witnessed by graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving 30 to 60 years in prison.
Shortly after Sandusky’s arrest, Hall of Fame Coach Joe Paterno was fired over his handling of the matter. He had been the first school official to hear McQueary’s account of the shower incident.
One of the winningest coaches in college football history, he died of lung cancer a few months later at the age of 85. He was never charged with a crime.
Spanier was forced out as president when Sandusky, Curley and Schultz were charged in 2011, but was not charged until the following year.
He has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, saying Curley and Schultz characterized the incident in the shower as horseplay and not any form of child abuse.
A report commissioned by the university and conducted by a team led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh concluded that Paterno and the three others hushed up the allegations against Sandusky for fear of bad publicity.
McQueary testified on several occasions about how he went to Paterno a day after the shower encounter to discuss what he had seen. Paterno notified Curley and Schultz, and McQueary met with both of them about a week later. In his 2011 grand jury testimony, Paterno said he was told by McQueary the encounter involved “fondling” and was of “a sexual nature” but wasn’t quite sure what the act was.
The administrators told Sandusky he could not bring children onto campus anymore, but they had no plan to enforce that rule, prosecutors said.
A key piece of evidence is likely to be an email exchange the Freeh team obtained in which the three high-ranking officials debated how they should handle the 2001 shower incident. Spanier gave his approval to having Curley tell Sandusky to get professional help or face a report to the state’s child welfare agency.
“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,” Spanier replied. He called the plan “humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”