HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — 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.
Opening statements began 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 Sandusky 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.
Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte told jurors that Spanier and others agreed not to report Sandusky and, as a result, the abuse continued.
The attorney general’s office’s witness list includes two former Penn State officials who took plea deals in the case last week — former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley.
Schultz and Curley had faced the same charges as Spanier before they pleaded guilty last week to a single misdemeanor count of child endangerment, and they await sentencing.
The list also includes a former Penn State lawyer, the onetime head of a charity for children founded by Sandusky, as awell as police and someone described only as “a confidential witness.” Another potential witness is Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach who reported seeing Sandusky shower with the boy.
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.”
After McQueary’s 2001 report, Spanier, Schultz and Curley decided to talk to Sandusky and bar him from campus rather than report him to child-welfare authorities, Schulte said. They told him if he didn’t get help they would report him.
“Gary Schultz is going to tell you that he is very regretful of the decision to not be firmer” in insisting that they go to state child-welfare authorities, Schulte said.
On Monday, seven women and five men were chosen for the main jury panel after questioning of prospective jurors was done in secret. Four alternates were picked Tuesday morning. The trial is expected to last about a week.
Spanier, 68, was forced out shortly after Sandusky was charged with child molestation in 2011. Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison and maintains his innocence.
Silver took issue with the conspiracy charge against Sandusky, saying Penn State officials told a few other people about the complaint and reported Sandusky to Second Mile, a charity Sandusky founded and where he met most of his victims.
“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.
The charges stem from the Penn State officials’ handling of the 2001 report from McQueary that Sandusky had apparently molested a boy in a team shower. Prosecutors say their failure to report that to authorities allowed Sandusky to continue to abuse boys, while also endangering others.
Spanier has said that Curley and Schultz characterized the incident in the shower as horseplay and not any form of child abuse. He denies any wrongdoing.