Ex-Penn State officials to stand trial on Sandusky coverup charges

A judge ruled Tuesday that there's enough evidence for a full trial of three top former Penn State officials on charges that they covered up the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Brad Bower/AP/File and Matt Rourke/AP/File
Former Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz (l.), former Penn State president Graham Spanier (c.), and former Penn State director of athletics Tim Curley (r.) will stand trial on charges accusing them of a coverup in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Three former high-ranking officials at Penn State University are headed to trial on charges that they covered up the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.

State prosecutors say former Penn State President Graham Spanier, former Vice President Gary Schultz, and former Athletic Director Tim Curley knew that Mr. Sandusky was abusing boys but did not tell police, then lied to a grand jury about it. After a two-day hearing, a district judge ruled Tuesday that there is sufficient evidence to hold a full trial for the three men. 

Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, is serving a 30- to 60-year term in a state prison following conviction on 45 criminal counts related to the sexual molestation of 10 boys over a 15-year period. His trial last fall revealed he used a charity to groom at-risk boys and that the abuse was carried out in hotel rooms, university showers, and in his home. Sandusky says he is innocent and is appealing the conviction.

The charges against the three former Penn State officials include perjury, child endangerment, obstruction of justice, endangering the welfare of children, and failure to properly report suspected abuse. An arraignment is scheduled Sept. 20 and the trial is expected to take place next year

“It’s a tragic day for Penn State University, to say the least,” Dauphin County District Judge William Wenner said.

At the two-day hearing, prosecutors focused on two incidents of sexual abuse by Sandusky and what the officials said they knew about them.

Assistant football coach Mike McQueary testified Monday that he reported witnessing Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the locker room showers in February 2001 to Mr. Schultz, Mr. Curley, and late head coach Joe Paterno. Schultz and Curley have said that they didn't realize the incident was sexual; Mr. Spanier has said he was not fully aware of the details.

But an independent investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh and commissioned by the university’s board of trustees found e-mails in which the three discussed how to respond to the incident. They decided to ask Sandusky not to bring boys from his charity to the university locker rooms, according to the e-mails. Prosecutors have made the e-mails a central part of their case.

“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. But that can be assessed down the road,” Spanier wrote in one of the e-mails, according to the Freeh report. Spanier added that their response to Sandusky was “humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”

Sandusky was involved in the sexual assault of at least two children following the 2001 incident, which prosecutors said could have been prevented if the officials took immediate action.

The e-mails also show that Spanier discussed a May 1998 sexual assault involving Sandusky and a young boy. He had told a grand jury he had no knowledge of the incident until 2011.

The Freeh report concludes that reporting the 1998 assault could have prevented subsequent assaults of five different boys that took place in university facilities between 1998 and 2001.

In his testimony this week, Mr. McQueary said that Mr. Paterno told him the university would “try to scapegoat” him, and “don’t trust Old Main,” referring to the Penn State building that houses university administrators.

Curley attorney Caroline Roberto called McQueary's testimony “embellishment,” which she suggested was possible because there were “no witnesses” to the conversations.

Attorneys for all three men say their clients are innocent and that they did everything they could in assisting the Sandusky investigation.

Spanier was forced out as president in late 2011, but remains on administrative leave. Curley was placed on leave to serve out his contract, and Schultz is retired. All three men were initially charged in November 2011.

In early July, Spanier filed a notice in Centre County Court that he intends to bring a defamation suit against Freeh.

Penn State’s board of trustees authorized the payment of about $60 million two weeks ago to settle claims made by dozens of Sandusky’s victims.

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