Timing of Penn State charges just days before the election spurs debate
HARRISBURG — The timing of this week's criminal charges against former Penn State University President Graham Spanier is a hot topic of scrutiny during a campaign for attorney general in which the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal has dominated debate.
“Hopefully, the decision to file the charges just days before the election was not politically motivated, though I'm doubtful,” said university trustee Anthony Lubrano, who joined the board this year. He called the timing “curious.”
Attorney General Linda Kelly, an appointee of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, denied any connection to the election when she announced the charges on Thursday. Authorities accuse Spanier of conspiring with fellow former administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz to cover up child sex abuse allegations against Sandusky and lying to investigators.
Curley and Schultz, who deny the charges, were arraigned on Friday.
The attorney general's investigation led to charges last year against Sandusky, 68, the former assistant football coach convicted in June of molesting 10 boys over 15 years.
Kelly told reporters that authorities filed new charges this week because the case was “ripe.” A grand jury presentment shows evidence against Spanier and the others started flowing after trustees fired him last November.
The presentment raised questions.
“One wonders why the Attorney General's Office issued the presentment at this time, given the election,” said Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre.
The Sandusky investigation and by extension the Spanier case are “clearly part of the campaign for attorney general,” Baldino said. “I'm not sure it will have a dramatic effect on the outcome.”
Democrat Kathleen Kane, a former Lackawanna County prosecutor, has questioned repeatedly why it took 33 months to arrest Sandusky, why a grand jury was even used, and why Corbett — who was attorney general when the investigation began — did not arrest Sandusky when the first victim was confirmed.
Her opponent, Republican David Freed, was Corbett's pick in the GOP primary. Freed in numerous comments has supported the investigation but acknowledged he would review it.
Corbett said recently there's no one who can say, “I told them to hold that case up.” He also says it's likely the state would have lost the case if it prosecuted based on one victim's testimony.
“It's all about some fuzzy conspiracy,” said Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, a Freed supporter.
Freed said the Spanier presentment won't have an effect on the campaign. Kane declined to comment on the Spanier case through her spokesman, Joshua Morrow.
“I don't think it benefits me,” Freed said. “I don't think it benefits my opponent. It doesn't appear there was any politics involved.”
If the motive was political, it was a bad move for the Republicans because it rekindles the issue for Kane, said Jerry Shuster, a professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh.
Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, agreed.
“I don't think (the Spanier presentment) was issued for political reasons because I don't think it has any advantage for David Freed, and if anything, it raises awareness for Kathleen Kane, who's been questioning the whole issue,” said Borick.
Kane's criticism of the length of the investigation brought a sharp rebuke from Marsico at an endorsement event for Freed.
Kane's campaign is using the Sandusky case for “political purposes,” and some of her assertions about how she would have handled it are “ridiculous,” Marsico said. It's “reckless” for a prosecutor to say he or she wouldn't use a grand jury in a sexual assault case, he said. He has done so in Dauphin County.
Kane's campaign did not respond.
Marsico's remarks seem reflective of “mounting Republican frustration” in a race in which numerous polls have shown Kane leading, Borick said.
Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and firstname.lastname@example.org.