Over the last year, there has obviously been more interest in the disappearance of Ray Gricar. This is due, in large part, his decision, as District Attorney, not to prosecute Jerry Sandusky in 1998. In the expansive discussions online, many in the chattering class have tried to look at Mr. Gricar’s record of prosecuting cases as District Attorney of Centre County.
For me, this was not entirely virgin territory. In August, 2010, well before there were any rumors of Mr. Gricar ever having dealt with the 1998 incident, or even the existence of the 1998 incident. I cited two cases where public opinion would have probably not been on his side, the 1997 Grove case, and, to a lesser extent, the Rosengrants brothers case from 2004. He did prosecute both, which prompted me to describe Mr. Gricar as, “…a prosecutor who would pursue even difficult cases in the interest of justice, not for his own political interests or to puff up his record.”1 I’m not backing away from that. Note that defendants in the case were found not guilty.
These cases involved a death; both were manslaughter cases. Mr. Gricar indicated that he felt he had to prosecute in these cases, even while noting that there would be a lot of sympathy for the victim, especially in the Rosengrants brothers case.2 There is a case where it did not involve a death, but a sexual assault. And it involved a football player at Penn State, and the actions of name familiar to most people reading this, then head football coach Joe Paterno. It was the case of Anwar Phillips, tried in 2003.
[This is a bit more graphic than I’m used to, so you might not want to read further.]
Anwar Phillips was a member of the Nittany Lions (and later professional football player), who was charged with sexual assault and indecent sexual assault in March of 2003.3 Prior to this, he had been expelled from Penn State for two semesters prior to this, beginning with the Spring Semester of 2003.4 Mr. Paterno permitted Mr. Phillips to play in a bowl game that occurred after the decision was made, but before the expulsion was in effect.
Mr. Paterno’s decision prompted a huge amount of criticism, even from then University President Graham Spanier, who declared that in his view Phillips should have been permitted to play. 5 There was even a question if Penn State violated Big Ten rules playing Mr. Phillips6. When later asked about his decision, Mr. Paterno said, "I played him. It is nobody's business but mine."7
Well, this was a highly charged case that Mr. Gricar prosecuted. He very easily could have looked at the case and said that there was not enough evidence to convict Mr. Phillips. That is because, this really was a weak case. Mr. Phillips was acquitted.
At the trial, Mr. Phillips indicated that he did have intercourse with the woman, a fellow student, but it was consensual. He had initially begun oral sex, but the woman told him to stop, and he stopped. According to him, she never told him to stop after that. saying, “I would have stopped if she told me. She didn't tell me anything.” The woman said, "If you say no, why should I have to clarify." 8 A physical examination the next day indicated no physical assault.9 One of the defense attorney, a former assistant district attorney under Mr. Gricar, Tony Deboef, speculated that the reason she claimed this was to get a morning after pill.10
Two of the eleven women jurors commented after the verdict of not guilty. Their comments probably indicate just how weak the case was. One said, “"Every time she told him to stop, they ended up on the bed cuddling again.” Another said, "She told him to stop, and then she kissed him."10 It only took the jury a bit over three hours to decide this.
Mr. Gricar expressed “surprise”9 by the verdict. Others did not.
A sportswriter, Mike Sielski, now with the Wall Street Journal, covered the story for a Bucks County paper. According to him, Mr. Gricar’s big point was that she transferred to another school after the incident.11 I’ve known many people, including women, who left Penn State; some of my high school classmate left in the first year because they couldn’t schedule enough time for lunch. I have an aunt who, in the late 1950’s, left her first college, “Because they were all snobs there.” While the woman could have been traumatized, there are dozens of other reasons to transfer, including not wanting be known as “The girl who tried to get Anwar in trouble.” I frankly would have laughed in Mr. Gricar’s face had he claimed that was absolute proof of a sexual assault.
Mr. Sielski wrote on Mr. Phillips’ acquittal:
“When the Phillips story broke, it seemed the ultimate act of arrogance for Paterno not only to play him in the Capital One Bowl but to sneer at the notion that he should have to explain why he played him. I excoriated him at the time, and I humbly stand corrected now.”
“Now, the statement by Penn State president Graham Spainer that Paterno's decision was incorrect seems premature, and Phillips's expulsion seems a grave injustice. I thought otherwise until yesterday, until I walked into the Centre County Courthouse and listened to the dearth of evidence presented by the prosecution.”11
This was not the commentary from a rabid Penn State fan or someone who thought Mr. Paterno was a saint, or a god. Mr. Sielski was someone who had raked Mr. Patero over the coals for this, until the facts came out. It became clear to him that this case was extremely weak.
Yet, Mr. Gricar prosecuted this case, even though it took on, indirectly, Mr. Paterno. A guilty verdict would have seriously damaged his, Mr. Paterno’s, reputation. There would have claims about the “football culture,” and the hubris of Penn State football. I think you can easily imagine it. Still, Mr. Gricar pressed on with it, a weak case that, if he was successful would damage Penn State football and Joe Paterno’s legacy. He did not even fob it off on someone else in the office; Mr. Gricar personally argued this case.
After the Sandusky incitement became public, Mr. DeBoef, the same attorney who defended Mr. Phillips said, “No one got a bye with Ray. He didn’t care who you were; he had a job to do.”12 Every time I have looked at Mr. Gricar’s handling of cases, both before and after the Sandusky case became public, I still see what Mr. Deboef is talking about. The Phillips case is a prime example.
A few months ago, I had a chance to talk to someone in law enforcement, who was familiar with the Sandusky investigation, and who had been involved in other cases Mr. Gricar prosecuted. He asked me what I thought overall of Mr. Gricar’s record as District Attorney, aside from the Sandusky case. My answer was that in every other case that I could find out about, Mr. Gricar was a hard hitting prosecutor, who would go with even weak cases if he felt that it was matter of justice, even if he were likely to lose. He didn’t disagree.
As I’ve indicated, the chattering class does talk about Mr. Gricar’s record. I had posted a message, which concluded:
“He had an impressive record, except for Sandusky!”
The response, from a poster named “Jessie” was a summation of Mr. Gricar’s record, which was:
“Thats just it, like you said, except for Sandusky. imo” 13
10 PPG 8/27/03, http://old.post-gazette.com/sports/psu/20030827anwar0827p5.asp
Centre Daily Times Ray Gricar Section: http://www.centredaily.com/138/
Link to the Main Index for Sporadic Comments on Ray Gricar: http://www.centredaily.com/2011/03/21/2597340/main-index-32011.html
E-mail J. J. in Phila at firstname.lastname@example.org