BY DIANE DIMOND
“Guilty.” The jury foreman pronounced that verdict 45 times as former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, charged with dozens of counts of sexually molesting young boys, stood at the defense table with his hand casually tucked inside his pants pocket. I attended every day of that unforgettable trial and can hardly believe it took place nearly five years ago.
All these years later, there are still repercussions from his crimes against the 10 young boys whose emotional stories filled the courtroom. Now, one former top Penn State official stands convicted of knowing about the predator’s activities on university property and doing little to stop it, and two pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Though Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison (at 73 years old, it’s sure to be a life sentence), those who knew full well about his suspicious actions with a young boy in a locker room shower in 2001 but failed to report it to police got off with a relative slap on the wrist. Felony charges were dropped or ignored by the jury; only convictions for misdemeanors stood.
Graham Spanier was once the president of Penn State. Gary Schultz was senior vice president. And Tim Curley was the director of the university’s prestigious athletic department. After it became clear what they knew about Sandusky’s tendencies, all three men were forced out. Penn State ultimately agreed to pay nearly $60 million to 26 of Sandusky’s sexual abuse victims.
Last week, Spanier, a career educator, was found guilty of misdemeanor child endangerment after his two one-time underlings testified against him and agreed to plead guilty to a similar misdemeanor charge. The former Penn State president now faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Hardly anyone believes any of the convicted will spend much time in prison, if any.
Witnesses at the Spanier trial testified about how the university’s top officials became fully aware of a 2001 report from eye witnesses who spotted a naked Sandusky in a most compromising position with a young boy in the football team’s shower room. An email written by president Spanier to Curley and Schultz was introduced at trial, in which he explained his motives in confronting Sandusky about the report instead of taking the matter to authorities.
“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” he wrote.
Once warned, as we learned during the Sandusky trial, the popular assistant football coach didn’t stop his sexual abuse. He simply confined his illicit playtimes with young boys involved in his youth charity, to his home basement outfitted with a waterbed, a big-screen television and popular video games. Several victims testified about what happened to them there. One remembered screaming for help hoping Sandusky’s wife, Dottie Sandusky, would come to his rescue from upstairs. She did not.
And the sexual grooming and attacks would go on for several more years.
So what was the duty of the top officials at Penn State? They knew about the 2001 report. They surely heard the whispers of school football athletes, and others murmured about the overly touchy-feely coach. If they had been at all curious and checked into Sandusky’s youth charity, they might have heard more stories. If they’d contacted police detectives, they might have connected the shower incident to the complaint from the mother of a young boy who came to them after her son came home with wet hair and confided to her that he had also showered with the popular coach. But none of that happened.
Sandusky was finally arrested in November 2011, 10 years after the first shower incident. If only Spanier, Curley or Schultz had gone to the police early on instead of calling Sandusky on the carpet to ban him from bringing youngsters on school property, who knows how many other victims might have been spared?
It’s not uncommon for university presidents to put the institution’s reputation before the well-being of its students. The president of Baylor University, Ken Starr, was demoted and then resigned after an investigation revealed the school did little to respond to accusations of sexual assault by football players.
The New York Times reports, “Administrators have been fired from several colleges and universities that failed to report assaults or treat them seriously.”
But what happened at Penn State was beyond the pale. Sitting in that courtroom all those years ago and listening to weeping young men recount what happened to them as little boys at the hands of Jerry Sandusky was a searing experience.
A sentencing date for Spanier has not been set. But he insists he did not know Sandusky was a serial pedophile and that he plans to appeal his conviction.