HARRISBURG — What did Joe Paterno think about the way Penn State officials handled a report in 2001 that Jerry Sandusky was in a shower with a young boy?
Mike McQueary, the witness to the incident, offered up an answer Monday that stirred the pot in the ongoing popular debate over the late coach.
“He said, ‘Old Main screwed it up,’ ” a blunt McQueary said from the witness stand during a preliminary hearing for the three former university administrators accused of covering up his 2001 report and a separate one three years earlier.
The unmistakable tall, red-headed McQueary was the first witness called in the long-awaited hearing for former Penn State president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz, who face charges including obstruction of justice, conspiracy and child endangerment.
The preliminary hearing will resume Tuesday with three witnesses to be called.
McQueary’s testimony about the 2001 incident was the fourth time he’d taken the witness stand, as he testified in secret to the grand jury, he testified at the first preliminary hearing for Curley and Schultz and he was a star witness at the Sandusky trial last summer.
On the stand Monday, McQueary was just as assertive and confident as he was in previous public testimonies, and he often asked the lawyers questioning him to be clearer so his words would not be taken out of context.
McQueary’s “Old Main screwed it up” comment was the answer to prosecutor Bruce Beemer’s question, and it seemed to shake up Curley defense attorney Caroline Roberto, who asked McQueary whether he divulged that revelation to investigators (McQueary said he thought so) or if there were any witnesses who heard it (McQueary said no).
Schultz lawyer Tom Farrell opened the door to the insight from McQueary on Paterno by asking if the two had talked about the 2001 incident report in the years after it was brought to light. McQueary said he couldn’t remember word for word what Paterno said, but he recalled it was along the lines of “ ‘Hey, are you OK?’ ” or about Sandusky, “ ‘God, he was a sick guy.’ ”
McQueary said he had another chat with Paterno hours before the head coach was fired in November 2011.
McQueary testified Paterno gave him the following heads up:
• “He said the university is going to come down hard on you.”
• “Don’t worry about me. They’re going to try to scapegoat you. Trust your lawyers.”
• “Don’t trust Cynthia Baldwin. Don’t trust Old Main.”
Baldwin is Penn State’s former general counsel and also a former university trustee.
At one point, under cross-examination by Spanier’s lawyer, he tried to atone for not calling police in 2001.
“I didn’t handle this the perfect way, if that’s what you’re getting at,” he told lawyer Elizabeth Ainslie. “I’ll point the finger at myself before anyone else.”
Aside from the new insights into the McQueary-Paterno relationship, McQueary reviewed the familiar story of the 2001 Sandusky episode, minus the graphic details.
McQueary’s testimony revolved around what he told Paterno, Curley and Schultz, but one thing changed: McQueary testified he phoned Paterno about the incident at 8 a.m. the Saturday after he saw it, instead of 7:15 or 7:30 a.m. that day as he’d previously testified.
McQueary told Paterno he saw Sandusky in what was “a very bad sexual act, molestation act, with a minor.”
Paterno’s response, he said: “He said, ‘that had to be tough on you. You’ve done the right thing and I need to think about this and talk to some people,’ ” McQueary said.
McQueary testified he later met with Curley and Schultz to discuss the incident. The meeting lasted 10 or 15 minutes, and he doesn’t recall that either man took notes.
McQueary told prosecutor Beemer he was sure the two men got the impression what he saw was sexual in nature.
“There’s no way I would have just gone back and called Joe Paterno and met with the university vice president and the athletic director and tell them anything that was not … really bad,” said McQueary, who's suing the university for lost wages after his contract was not renewed.
Defense attorney Roberto pressed McQueary to recall who else he told about the shower episode.
McQueary was adamant about what he told his dad, John McQueary Sr.: “I said, ‘You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on,’ ” the son testified.
Roberto asked Mike McQueary to recall his conversation with family friend Jonathan Dranov, but Beemer objected.
Roberto asked McQueary if he told anyone else, such as his girlfriend at the time.
Beemer objected right away, and Judge William Wenner sustained it.
Beemer rang in with an objection when Roberto suggested that McQueary only met with investigators in late 2010 after he had spoken with a lawyer.
Penn State trustees Anthony Lubrano and Alvin Clemens were in the crowd for the hearing. Lubrano said he was “doubtful” of McQueary’s testimony about Paterno.