Former PSU President Spanier in court for Sandusky child sex abuse scandal
Life as an ex-president has given Graham Spanier a novel commodity: time.
Nine months since state prosecutors charged him with concealing child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky, friends say the once-outspoken Penn State University leader has focused on consulting projects, academic writing and quiet family visits. Spanier even found time to attend a junior high reunion outside Chicago, where he grew up.
“If it were me, I'd be a nervous wreck. He looks good. He looks healthy,” said Richard M. Lerner, 67, a Tufts University professor and Spanier friend and colleague. “He's obviously concerned to have to go through this. It's really destroyed his life. But he's very optimistic.”
That optimism will be tested on Monday as Spanier, 65, of State College joins former Penn State administrators Timothy M. Curley, 59, and Gary C. Schultz, 63, in a preliminary hearing that could run for three days in Dauphin County Court. Prosecutors allege the three men for years withheld crucial information about Sandusky, a former assistant football coach convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years, sometimes in university facilities.
Charges against the longtime administrators run from perjury and conspiracy to endangering the welfare of children, all of which the men denied. The state Attorney General's Office first charged Curley and Schultz in November 2011, expanding the charges to include Spanier and additional allegations about a year later.
Lawyers for the men would not grant interviews Friday to the Tribune-Review, though other independent analysts said they expect District Judge William Wenner to send the case to trial.
“It's important to remember that the preliminary hearing is, as the name suggests, a preview of the prosecution's evidence and not an indicator of a defendant's guilt or innocence,” said Curley's attorney, Caroline Roberto, in a prepared statement. “The prosecution only has to present the bare minimum of evidence to convince a judge a trial is necessary.”
Chief Deputy Attorney General Bruce Beemer will lead the prosecution team, assisted this week by state attorneys Laura Ditka and James Barker. The Attorney General's Office declined to comment further.
Legal observers said the prosecution probably will keep witness testimony and other evidence to a minimum as it hopes for a full trial. They said it's highly unlikely Curley, Schultz or Spanier will take the witness stand at the hearing.
“I imagine they're not going to call everyone they have,” said Duke George, a New Kensington-based criminal defense attorney. “It's an unusual circumstance where a case isn't held for court.”
Still, law professor Wes Oliver, director of the criminal justice program at Duquesne University, said he expects Mike McQueary, a central witness during Sandusky's trial, will testify again this week. McQueary said he saw Sandusky in a shower with a young boy in 2001, but variations in McQueary's telling of the incident could help the defense for the three men, Oliver said. At issue is what Spanier, Curley and Schultz did when they heard about what McQueary saw.
“Every time McQueary testifies, it's high drama,” he said. “He's a very combative witness.”
Further, Oliver said, the case this week will hold more legal intrigue than the Sandusky trial. Sandusky jurors found the retired coach, 69, not guilty on three of 48 counts. The not-guilty decisions involved two young men whose abuse allegedly was known to Curley, Schultz and Spanier, Oliver said.
That could raise questions about whether the men are “criminally liable for not acting,” he said.
One of Spanier's oldest friends, Steve Weinberg, said he has no reason to doubt Spanier is innocent. He stepped down as Penn State president shortly after Sandusky was charged in November 2011, ending a 16-year tenure as chief administrator.
“He knew the buck stopped in the president's office, even though there's no reason he should have known about” Sandusky's abuse, said Weinberg, 65, of Columbia, Mo. “He knew there was going to be no other way out. He had to do what was best for the university.”
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.