HARRISBURG, Pa. – The failure of Penn State's former president to report child molestation accusations against Jerry Sandusky allowed evil "to run wild," prosecutors said Tuesday at the start of Graham Spanier's trial. A defense attorney accused prosecutors of trying to "criminalize a judgment call."
Opening statements got underway in the long-delayed criminal trial against Spanier, who faces felony charges of child endangerment and conspiracy for how he handled a 2001 report that the former assistant football coach had abused a boy in a team shower.
Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving decades in prison.
Two former Penn State officials took plea deals in the case last week — former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley. They are expected to testify along with a victim of Sandusky.
Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte told jurors that Spanier and others agreed not to report Sandusky and, as a result, "evil in the form of Jerry Sandusky was allowed to run wild."
Defense attorney Sam Silver disputed any notion that his client and others didn't respond to the 2001 complaint about Sandusky.
"They made a decision they believed was appropriate under the circumstances," he said, accusing prosecutors of trying to "criminalize a judgment call."
Schulte told the jury of seven women and five men about a May 1998 incident in which a mother reported Sandusky showering with her son, and said Schultz informed Spanier "because the president of the university should be apprised of something like that."
After a month the investigation by police and child welfare agencies ended with no charges being filed.
After graduate assistant Mike McQueary's complained about Sandusky showering with a boy in a team facility, Spanier, Schultz and Curley decided to talk to Sandusky and bar him from bringing children onto campus rather than report him to child-welfare authorities, Schulte said. They told him if he didn't get help they would report him, he said.
"Gary Schultz is going to tell you that he is very regretful of the decision to not be firmer in insisting" they report the matter to state child-welfare authorities, Schulte said.
McQueary told jurors Tuesday he was sure he told Curley and Schultz that what he saw was sexual in nature: "I told them that I saw Jerry molesting a boy."
Wendell Courtney, then Penn State's general counsel, said he told Schultz to report it the state child-welfare authorities, even though Schultz "absolutely" did not describe it as a sexual attack.
"It was the smart and prudent and appropriate thing to do," Courtney testified.
The former director of The Second Mile, a charity Sandusky founded and where he met most of his victims, said Curley told him that an investigation into the incident McQueary witnessed determined nothing inappropriate had occurred.
Psychologist Jack Raykovitz, who headed the agency for at-risk youth, said he advised Sandusky to wear swim trunks if he showered with children in the future. He also informed several high-ranking board members of The Second Mile about the matter.
The Second Mile did not take steps to keep Sandusky away from children until 2008, when it was told Sandusky was the target of an investigation.
Spanier, 68, was forced out shortly after Sandusky was charged with child molestation in 2011.
Schultz and Curley had faced the same charges as Spanier before they pleaded guilty last week to a single misdemeanor count of child endangerment. They await sentencing.
Silver took issue with the conspiracy charge, saying Penn State officials told a few other people about the complaint and reported Sandusky to The Second Mile.
"That's a heck of a way to pull off a conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children, to go off and tell all these people," he said.
Spanier, who denies any wrongdoing, has said Curley and Schultz characterized the 2001 incident in the shower as horseplay and not any form of child abuse.