On Halloween night last year, rumors started flying that new charges were being handed down from the grand jury that had been investigating the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case.
Sure enough, during a news conference in Harrisburg the next day, then-Attorney General Linda Kelly delivered a bombshell in describing a “conspiracy of silence” in accusing three Penn State administrators of hiding abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago.
Facing charges for the first time in the Sandusky scandal was former university president Graham Spanier. He was accused of lying under oath, obstructing law authorities trying to investigate, endangering the welfare of children, conspiracy and failing to report abuse.
Former athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz, already indicted and awaiting trial on perjury and failure to report abuse charges, were hit with additional charges of obstruction, child endangerment and conspiracy.
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The three men turned themselves soon after for a brief arraignment in suburban Harrisburg, and they were released on unsecured bail awaiting their first formal court appearance, a preliminary hearing. The defense attorneys filed a flurry of motions, such as barring a key prosecution witness from testifying or throwing out the charges, to the various hierarchies of the state court system, and as a result, stalled the start of the preliminary hearing for months.
Now, after almost nine full months since the charges were brought, Spanier, Curley and Schultz will have their first chance to defend themselves against the evidence that prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office outlined in a 59-page presentment. For the public, the hearing may or may not reveal new information to help fill in the holes about what is already known about the response to the Sandusky scandal, which led to the dismissal of beloved football coach Joe Paterno.
The preliminary hearing starts at 9 a.m. Monday in courtroom No. 1 in the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg with District Judge William Wenner presiding. The hearing could spill over into Tuesday, and court officials have cleared the courtroom’s schedule for Thursday if a third day is needed.
The burden during a preliminary hearing is on the prosecution to introduce enough evidence or witnesses that show a crime occurred and that it can be linked to the person or people charged. It’s doubtful the prosecutors will show their full case at this stage, though.
The charges are based on emails that were discovered during the investigation and testimony from Penn State officials such as former university police chief Thomas Harmon and former general counsel Cynthia Baldwin.
Here’s a look at the allegations that gave rise to the charges.
• Perjury, against Spanier: The presentment says Spanier told the grand jury he did not know about an incident involving Sandusky with a young boy in a campus locker room in 1998. But the presentment says he did know about it and uses emails from 1998 as evidence he did.
The presentment accuses Spanier of lying about the incident in 2001 that was reported by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary. According to the presentment, Spanier lied under oath when he said the incident was described to him as horseplay and when he denied that Curley and Schultz discussed referring the 2001 incident to a child protective agency.
The presentment says email exchanges in 2001 “make it clear” that Spanier, Curley and Schultz were discussing the abuse of a child and that there was talk about reporting it.
To support that charge, it’s likely the prosecution will read into the record Spanier’s grand jury testimony from April 13, 2011, and then produce corroborating witness testimony.
• Endangering welfare of children, against Spanier, Curley and Schultz: According to the presentment, the three men “engaged in a repeated pattern of behavior that evidenced a willful disregard for the safety and well-being” of children on campus by allowing Sandusky to have unfettered access to facilities. The presentment said the men showed a “frightening lack of concern” for the young man in the shower with Sandusky in 2001 and that the first thing they should have done after McQueary’s report was contact police or child protective authorities.
According to the presentment, Harmon testified that the need to report the 2001 incident would have been apparent because of the 1998 incident. Harmon testified that the 2001 report likely would have resulted in another look at the 1998 incident, which had been investigated by university police but was not prosecuted.
The presentment said Spanier, Curley and Schultz endangered the young man by never trying to locate him or identify him. The three administrators also endangered other young boys because Sandusky was not reported in 2001, the presentment said.
Harmon could be called as one of the witnesses to support those charges.
• Obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges, against Spanier, Curley and Schultz: The presentment, on pages 38 and 39, outlines a long list of accusations to support these charges.
Among them: Schultz not turning over to investigators a confidential file containing handwritten notes about Sandusky from 1998 and 2001; Schultz calling Harmon in 2001 to ask if the 1998 incident report was available but not telling Harmon there was another allegation; Spanier failing in 2011 to tell the university’s board of trustees about his role in responding to the 2001 incident; and a lack of compliance with responding to grand jury subpoenas.
• Failure to report abuse, against Spanier: According to the presentment, Spanier had a legal obligation to report the 2001 incident to authorities, but he did not.
For the defense, the hearing provides a look at the evidence and the opportunity to test it, whether cross-examining witnesses or calling their own. But the defense can’t bring in character witnesses until trial.
The defense will likely fight to keep Baldwin off the stand if she were called to testify by the prosecution. The defense attorneys have said Baldwin violated attorney-client privilege by testifying to the grand jury about information she was told while preparing their clients for their own grand jury appearances.
If Wenner determines the Attorney General’s Office put forward enough evidence, he will be bind over the charges for a possible trial.
Curley defense lawyer Caroline Roberto said the preliminary hearing is not an indicator of someone’s guilt but rather a preview of the possible evidence. Roberto, and the lawyers for Spanier and Schultz, have vigorously maintained that their clients are innocent.
“The prosecution only has to present the bare minimum of evidence to convince a judge a trial is necessary,” she said. “Virtually every trial that ends in a ‘not guilty’ verdict started with the innocent defendant being required by a preliminary hearing judge to defend themselves against the prosecution’s charges.
“It’s part of the legal process. Tim Curley is innocent and we look forward to vigorously challenging the charges at every stage.”
Spanier’s lawyers asked a Dauphin County-level judge to get a look at the prosecution’s evidence before the preliminary hearing, but the judge denied the request.
The lawyers also moved for a dismissal of the charges, saying they are based on Baldwin’s unlawful testimony and some of the statute of limitations have expired.
Those who have a vested interest in the outcome of the hearing or are just plain curious to see it all finally happen should arrive early. All attendees — the public and the media — will be allowed into the courtroom starting at 8:15 a.m. through 8:45 a.m., according to the judge’s decorum order.
People can bring in cellphones, but they must be turned off during the proceedings. Anyone who leaves the courtroom while court is in session won’t be allowed back in until the next break.