State Attorney General Josh Shapiro plans to appeal a federal judge’s decision to overturn former Penn State President Graham Spanier’s child endangerment conviction, according to a press release from his office.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Karoline Mehalchick dismissed Spanier’s conviction Tuesday, one day before he was scheduled to report to jail to serve his two-month sentence. Shapiro called her decision “last-minute and highly unusual.”
“Graham Spanier ... was personally advised that children were being sexually abused on school property,” Shapiro said. “Evidence proved he chose not to help the children, but instead to cover up the abuse, despite being well aware of his responsibility as a supervisor.”
In her ruling, Mehalchick agreed with Spanier that he was improperly charged under a 2007 law in connection with actions that occurred in 2001, when he was responding to a complaint about former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky showering with a boy on campus.
She also gave Shapiro’s office three months to retry Spanier.
“As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has made crystal clear, Spanier’s conduct was illegal,” Shapiro said. “The Office of Attorney General will quickly appeal this ruling to hold him accountable for his conduct covering up child sexual abuse. No one is above the law.”
Spanier’s defense attorneys, Sam Silver and Bruce Merenstein, said in a statement that they were “dismayed” by Shapiro’s decision to “blatantly and prejudicially misrepresent facts” in announcing his intent to appeal.
“Contrary to Attorney General Shapiro’s statement, there is no evidence that Graham Spanier was personally advised that children were being sexually abused,” Silver and Merenstein wrote. “And Attorney General Shapiro knows that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made nothing ‘crystal clear’ about Spanier’s conduct, as it did not hear this case on the merits at any time.”
The two said they were “stunned” that Shapiro accused Spanier of a cover-up.
“We will continue to defend Spanier against this overzealous and unlawful prosecution,” Silver and Merenstein said. “And we will continue to do so in the courts, where the dispute belongs — and not through hyperbolic statements like that of the attorney general.”
Spanier, 70, was removed as university president shortly after Sandusky was arrested in 2011 on charges of child molestation. Spanier was charged one year later, accused of covering up the abuses.
He said Sandusky’s actions were characterized to him as horseplay, though he told the sentencing judge he regretted he “did not intervene more forcefully.”
Spanier had remained free on bail since the 2017 conviction. He also continues to be a tenured faculty member on administrative leave, according to Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers. His salary — like other faculty members’ — is confidential, she said Tuesday.
The university declined to comment on Mehalchick’s ruling or Shapiro’s announcement because the case is still pending, Powers said Wednesday.
Two of Spanier’s top lieutenants — former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley — both pleaded guilty to child endangerment charges. They have since served their respective jail sentences.
Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator for former coach Joe Paterno, was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. The state Superior Court in February ordered he be resentenced, but denied him a new trial.
Sandusky is detained at the Laurel Highlands state prison in Somerset County.