Three former top officials at Penn State, including the president, were in a Pennsylvania courtroom on Monday as they fought to avoid a trial on charges they covered up a sexual abuse scandal involving an assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky.
The leadoff witness at the preliminary hearing was Mike McQueary, a former assistant football coach, who at other trials and grand jury investigations has testified that he told the administrators that Sandusky engaged in a sex act in 2001 with a boy the coach brought to a locker room at the university’s football training facility.
The administrators have denied that they were told that the action was sexual abuse and say they believed it was just the usual horse play common in an athletic atmosphere.
The judge in the Harrisburg hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to bring to trial the former administrators, ex-President Graham Spanier, retired university vice president Gary Schultz and then-athletic director Tim Curley. The three are charged with perjury, obstruction of justice, endangering the welfare of children, failure to properly report suspected abuse and conspiracy. They are accused of hiding evidence from investigators and lying to a grand jury that probed the Sandusky affair.
Sandusky, 69, is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence for his conviction in June 2012 on 45 counts related to the sexual abuse of 10 boys beginning in the mid-1990s. The boys came from a charity, the Second Mile, founded by Sandusky in 1977.
The former assistant football coach was convicted of using his ties to big-time college sports as a way of impressing, then grooming, disadvantaged youths. The boys were brought to games, the Penn State training facility and given athletic mementos as part of a campaign that often culminated in the children being sexually assaulted.
Sandusky’s arrest in 2011 and subsequent conviction shocked the Penn State campus and raised questions about how he had been allowed to operate for so long. A 2012 report ordered by the university and prepared by former FBI Director Louis Freeh blamed top officials, including the late football coach Joe Paterno, for failing to act on allegations against Sandusky.
McQueary, one of the star witnesses against Sandusky, again described the assault he said he witnessed in the locker room. He said he took his observations to Paterno.
“I told him that I went to the locker room the night before … and I had seen coach Sandusky engaged in a very bad act, a sexual molestation act, with a minor,” McQueary testified, according to media reports from the courtroom. He said he later told Schultz and Curley as well.
"I told them I had seen Jerry Sandusky involved in a sexual situation, sexual molestation incident, in the Penn State locker room," he said.
No one took action and the incident was not mentioned until November 2010, when Paterno brought it up.
"What did he say to you?" Chief Deputy Attorney General Bruce Beemer asked.
"He said, 'Old Main screwed up,'" McQueary testified.
Old Main is the one of the administrative buildings.
Monday’s preliminary hearing could last three days.
Curley and Schultz were initially charged in November 2011. Spanier was charged in 2012 when additional charges were brought against the others at the same time.
Spanier was fired within weeks of Sandusky’s arrest and Paterno was forced out as well. The iconic football coach died shortly thereafter of cancer at 85.
Meanwhile, Sandusky’s victims have filed civil suits against the school, which has set aside $60 million to cover those costs. Spanier's lawyers also have served legal notice that they intend to file defamation charges against Freeh. Spanier continues as a faculty member and is on administrative leave.
The Freeh report also led the college football governing body, the NCAA, to sanction the school, imposing a $60-million fine and voiding 14 seasons of football victories.