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McQueary's credibility expected to shape trial involving PSU administrators

Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary watches as the team warms up on Oct. 29, 2011, before a game in Beaver Stadium in State College.

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Key dates

Nov. 4, 2011: A grand jury indicts Jerry Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator at Penn State, on charges he abused eight boys, often on school grounds. School athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz are arraigned several days later on related charges of perjury and failure to report suspected abuse.

Nov. 9, 2011: School trustees remove president Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno from their posts.

Nov. 11, 2011: Penn State puts assistant football coach Mike McQueary, a key witness in the criminal cases, on administrative leave.

Dec. 7, 2011: Sandusky is arrested again and charged with abusing two more boys.

Dec. 16, 2011: Curley and Schultz are ordered to trial after a preliminary hearing.

Jan. 22, 2012: Paterno dies at 85 after developing lung cancer.

June 11, 2012: Sandusky's trial begins in Bellefonte.

June 22, 2012: A Centre County jury finds Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 criminal charges.

July 12, 2012: Former FBI Director Louis Freeh releases his Penn State-commissioned report on the Sandusky scandal, identifying governance failures at the school.

July 23, 2012: The NCAA announces unprecedented sanctions for Penn State, including a $60 million fine, a reduction in football scholarships and a four-year bowl ban.

Oct. 2, 2012: McQueary files a whistleblower lawsuit against the school, alleging he was made a scapegoat and dismissed after cooperating with investigators. He seeks reinstatement.

Oct. 9, 2012: Sandusky is sentenced to 30 to 60 years in state prison.

Nov. 1, 2012: Spanier is charged with obstruction of justice, perjury, endangering the welfare of children and other offenses. Additional charges are filed against Curley and Schultz.

April 16: A judge denies Penn State's request to dismiss McQueary's lawsuit. The case proceeds.

July 30: The latest charges against Curley, Schultz and Spanier are held for trial after a preliminary hearing in Harrisburg. Defense lawyers say they expect a trial in 2014.

Sept. 24: NCAA officials restore some football scholarships and raise the possibility they might further reduce the sanctions. They say Penn State has made progress in improving its sports culture.

Oct. 2: The state Superior Court rejects an appeal effort by Sandusky, whose appeals attorney promises to take the case to the state Supreme Court.

Oct. 28: Penn State announces $59.7 million in settlements for 26 men who claim abuse by Sandusky.

Source: Tribune-Review research

By Adam Smeltz
Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

Mike McQueary typically didn't walk away.

Not when a star quarterback under his guidance endured ridicule for losing football seasons at Penn State University. Not when his high school sociology teacher teased him about his red hair.

“I would warm my hands above his head,” said Joseph Boris, 64, who retired this year from State College Area High School. “He could take a joke. He was an upstanding guy.”

Why McQueary, 39, delayed reporting that he witnessed pedophile Jerry Sandusky, 69, violate a young boy will reignite questions about McQueary's credibility when three former Penn State administrators go to trial for an alleged cover-up, legal analysts say. Monday marks the second anniversary of Sandusky's indictment and about 16 months since his conviction in Centre County. The administrators' trial, expected next year, isn't scheduled.

“If the jury believes McQueary's story, then the focus of the trial becomes, ‘What did these three people do next?' ” said John Burkoff, a University of Pittsburgh law professor. “If jurors don't believe his story, there's more to the trial.”

McQueary declined to comment. His attorneys did not respond to messages regarding the Dauphin County case against former Penn State president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley. The men dispute committing perjury, conspiracy and child endangerment charges.

State prosecutors allege they concealed concerns about Sandusky and effectively enabled his abuse long after McQueary says he sounded alarms in February 2001.

Fallout from the scandal keeps rattling Penn State, which last week confirmed nearly $60 million in settlement payments to 26 men who claim abuse.

Attorneys for some victims say Spanier, Schultz and Curley failed to protect boys who believed in the school and in Sandusky, a retired football defensive coordinator. State prosecutors wouldn't have the pending case if not for McQueary, legal observer Wes Oliver said.

“It all turns on what McQueary told” Curley, Schultz and Spanier, said Oliver, Duquesne University's criminal justice program director. “What the jury factually thinks occurred turns on Mike McQueary.”

Straightforward, or embellished?

Teachers and coaches trusted McQueary as he grew up and played high school football in the shadow of Penn State.

Boris, who taught McQueary during the early 1990s, called him a jock who kept away from trouble: “I'd recommend him if he asked for a recommendation.”

McQueary enrolled at Penn State and became a quarterback on the late Joe Paterno's team. He set a school record for passing — 366 yards in a 1997 game against Pitt — before graduating to a brief National Football League stint.

Penn State drew him back in 2000, and he became the team's graduate assistant and recruiting coordinator. He was an assistant coach when the school did not renew his contract in 2012 — a dismissal McQueary disputes in a whistleblower lawsuit.

“As a coach, he always told you where you stood. He was always straightforward,” said former quarterback Zack Mills, 31, of Frederick, Md.

Not everyone sees steady virtue in McQueary, known around State College as “Big Red.” Defense lawyers accuse him of embellishing his testimony. Spanier's attorney Elizabeth Ainslie suggested during a July hearing that McQueary was “making it up as he goes along.”

“I don't believe a word he says,” Ainslie told the Trib afterward. She found it questionable that McQueary apparently waited for police to contact him when he heard rumors of a Sandusky investigation years after the shower incident, she said.

“Maybe they could create an impression that he has an interest in testifying this way to shift blame from himself,” said former prosecutor Christopher Mallios, an attorney adviser at the AEquitas anti-violence group in Washington. “What exactly he told his superiors, I think, remains something that hasn't been consistent.”

Failing to meet ‘a moral obligation'

A grand jury report released upon Sandusky's arrest revealed that McQueary reported a young boy's sexual assault in a football shower facility a decade earlier.

Though the presentment suggests McQueary saw an anal rape, McQueary later testified he did not directly observe that. He said he heard rhythmic slapping and saw a naked Sandusky closely positioned with a boy, concluding it was a sexual act.

Such apparent shifts in reports will help defense attorneys question his credibility and ask why he didn't immediately call police or intervene, legal analysts said.

“I don't think anyone will say this guy is a lying scoundrel,” Oliver said. “The question is, ‘How sure were you about what you saw?' If you weren't sure enough to act on it at the time, and you then had to go to university administrators, explain what you saw, explain that you did nothing and didn't even think to pick up a phone and call police, I think there will be real questions.”

Gov. Tom Corbett, the former state attorney general, said McQueary failed to meet “a moral obligation.” McQueary told Paterno about the incident the following day and spoke with Curley and Schultz within about 10 days, court testimony shows. Jurors found Sandusky guilty of the shower assault but acquitted him of a more serious charge in that incident.

Possible reasons for discrepancies

Oliver and other analysts point to additional variations in McQueary's statements and tone. In court, he misremembered the year and month of the shower incident. Curley, Schultz and Spanier indicated through attorneys that McQueary never portrayed the matter as anything so severe.

“He has acknowledged that he should have done more. When he testified, he was apologetic. I think that helps his credibility,” said Michael McCann, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

Prosecutors might say human nature and the effects of time explain differences in McQueary's stories and his delayed action, Mallios said. He pointed out that Schultz oversaw the university police force.

“Most people don't know how to react when they see child sexual abuse,” Mallios said. “We like to think we would immediately call police. Rationally, we know that's the right thing to do, but in most cases I've seen, that does not happen.”

Freelance reporter Anna Orso contributed to this report. Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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