The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

December 24, 2012

Sandusky abuse scandal impact felt widely in 2012

STATE COLLEGE — A year ago, as Jerry Sandusky was awaiting trial, Joe Paterno was telling a reporter he had “no inkling” before 2001 that Sandusky may have been a pedophile, and Penn State’s recently departed president, Graham Spanier, faced no criminal charges.

The Sandusky child molestation scandal brought developments on a daily basis in 2012, including the former assistant football coach’s conviction and sentencing, Paterno’s death from cancer two months after he was fired, new doubts about Paterno’s Sandusky-related statements and charges against Spanier for an alleged cover-up.

The story forced people to grapple with the horrors of pedophilia, said Temple University journalism professor Chris Harper, but it was the roles played by Paterno, Spanier and other high officials at Penn State that have made it so distinctive.

“I think the issue that garnered so much attention is that this had been going on for so long,” Harper said. “A variety of people knew about it and did nothing about it. So it sat there smoldering like a fire in the forest, and all of a sudden the forest became inflamed.”

The pivotal event this year was Sandusky’s three-week trial in June, during which eight young men testified they had been abused as children in various ways, from grooming and manipulation to fondling, oral sex and anal rape. Sandusky, who did not testify, was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in state prison, which means the 68-year-old who helped coach the Nittany Lions to two national championships is likely to die in prison.

“We’re not talking about a Division III backwater program,” said Karl Rominger, one of Sandusky’s defense attorneys. “We’re talking about one of the premier athletic programs in the nation.”

In Paterno, who won more games than any major college football coach, the university had cultivated an image of “winning with honor.” He built the football program into a juggernaut and helped raise more than $1 billion in donations that transformed the campus. He was not charged with any crime related to the Sandusky matter, and although he professed ignorance, he also acknowledged he wished he had done more.

Paterno was summarily fired by the board of trustees a few days after Sandusky’s arrest – an event that triggered a small riot on campus, and Spanier was forced out as president – although he remains a faculty member.

The school also removed a glorifying statue of Paterno from its prime spot outside the football stadium, but his name still adorns the campus library that his donations helped build.

Not long before he died in January, Paterno told The Washington Post that he had been completely unaware of a 1998 investigation by campus police of a complaint made by a woman after Sandusky had showered with her son.

“You know it wasn’t like it was something everybody in the building knew about,” Paterno told the paper. “Nobody knew about it.”

That claim was refuted in July, when Penn State released the results of its internal investigation into how Spanier, Paterno and two other administrators – Gary Schultz and Tim Curley – had handled that matter and a second complaint, made by a graduate assistant coach to Paterno about Sandusky showering with a boy in 2001.

A trail of emails and other records showed how the administrators dealt with the two complaints. The report, written by a team led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, reached a damning conclusion.

“The most powerful leaders at the university – Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the university’s board of trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large,” the report concluded, attributing their actions to a desire to avoid negative publicity for the university.

Schultz and Curley had been charged at the same time as Sandusky with perjury, for allegedly lying to a grand jury about the matter, and failing to report the 2001 complaint by Mike McQueary to proper authorities. They, along with Spanier and Paterno’s supporters, hotly disputed the report’s conclusions.

Some alumni groups painted Freeh’s investigation, commissioned by the Penn State board of trustees, as biased from the outset. But the school accepted Freeh’s findings, vowing to become a leader in child abuse prevention and to restore the trust it had lost.

The case against Curley and Schultz was moving slowly through the court system when prosecutors dropped another bombshell in October, releasing a follow-up grand jury report and adding new charges against both men. For the first time, Spanier was charged.

Attorney General Linda Kelly spoke of “a conspiracy of silence by top officials to actively conceal the truth.”

Curley is on leave with pay as athletic director until the final year of his contract expires, Schultz has retired, and Spanier remains a tenured faculty member since he was pushed out as president shortly after Sandusky’s arrest.

All three men deny the allegations. There are pending legal disputes about whether they will be tried separately and regarding the legal advice they received from former university chief counsel Cynthia Baldwin.

Curley and Schultz had been scheduled for a January trial on the first set of charges, but judges have delayed that proceeding, as well as the preliminary hearing for the newer charges for all three men.

The scandal has had repercussions outside the courtroom as well, most notably in the form of a July consent agreement by the university with the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference. Penn State avoided having the football program suspended from play but agreed to a four-year ban on postseason play, a reduction in scholarships, a NCAA-record $60 million fine and forfeiture of more than 100 wins.

Despite the loss of several star players, whose permission to transfer without penalty was part of the NCAA deal, Penn State finished the season under new coach Bill O’Brien with an 8-4 record.

At least five victims or accusers formally began civil lawsuits against Penn State this year, as did McQueary. The school has initiated settlement talks in an effort to avoid protracted litigation and trials, but so far that process has not produced concrete results.

In State College, the university has trained thousands of employees regarding child abuse and adopted many of the reforms suggested in the Freeh group’s report.

The Sandusky scandal reached into many aspects of life in Pennsylvania this year. It became a matter of debate in the Legislature, where a study recommended improvements to state child abuse laws, and lawmakers appear poised to take action in the coming months.

On the political front, Kathleen Kane became the first Democrat elected attorney general after a campaign in which she made an issue of how the Sandusky investigation was handled under Tom Corbett, then the attorney general and now the state’s Republican governor.

Sandusky, now confined in southwestern Pennsylvania in one of the state’s most secure prisons, recently appealed a decision by the State Employees’ Retirement Board to revoke his $59,000-a-year pension. He maintains his innocence and is pursuing appeals.

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