Sign in / Join

Former Penn State President Guilty in Sandusky Abuse Case

A jury in Harrisburg, Pa., reached a split verdict on Friday in the case against the former president of Penn State University over his handling of a child sex abuse complaint involving an assistant football coach.

The former president, Graham B. Spanier, was found guilty of a misdemeanor count of child endangerment but acquitted of conspiracy and another count of child endangerment for hushing up the accusations against the coach, Jerry Sandusky.

The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Mr. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 young boys whom, prosecutors said, he met through his charity work and drew in with gifts or trips to football games. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

The revelation of the abuse — and its extent — shocked the State College, Pa., community and upended a university that has long revered its football program.

The fallout was swift and far-reaching, touching both the football program and the administration. The Penn State coach, Joe Paterno, an icon on campus and the most victorious coach in major college football, was forced to resign. Much of his coaching staff was dismissed.

Mr. Spanier, once a well-liked leader who oversaw a period of expansion, was among the several officials harshly criticized by investigators who reviewed the university’s actions in a 2012 report. He has challenged its findings.

He was charged along with two other former administrators. the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz. Both men made last-minute plea deals and testified for the prosecution.

In 2013, Penn State agreed to pay $59.7 million to 26 sexual abuse victims in exchange for an end to their claims against the university.

The scandal was one in a series of recent cases sending a message that campus crimes — particularly sex crimes — cannot be kept as quiet, or treated as lightly, as they once were. Administrators have been fired from several colleges and universities that failed to report assaults or treat them seriously, including Ken Starr, who was removed last year as president of Baylor University.

“College administrators have been put on notice that if you know an employee is sexually assaulting people and you leave them in place, you could be held responsible, including legally responsible,” said John D. Foubert, a professor of higher education at Oklahoma State University who has written extensively on campus sexual assault.

But the circumstances at Penn State set it far apart from most campus sexual assault cases: it involved the abuse of children, a nationally renowned sports program, and the downfall of Mr. Paterno. And the criminal charges that resulted, not just against the attacker but against administrators accused of covering up his crimes, have no parallel in recent memory.

Mr. Spanier has long maintained that he was unaware of the seriousness of the accusations against Mr. Sandusky. The trial, which began with jury selection on Monday after years of legal delays, offered victims and their families the possibility of new information about what the university’s highest-ranking officials knew about Mr. Sandusky, especially after the guilty pleas of the former administrators last week. Supporters of Mr. Spanier and the administration hoped it would absolve the university of some wrongdoing in the case.

Prosecutors contended that Mr. Spanier, along Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz, was aware of a 2001 report that Mr. Sandusky had showered with a young boy at the university, but that they failed to tell the authorities, acting instead to keep the matter quiet. That choice, prosecutors said, allowed Mr. Sandusky to keep abusing boys for years.

They have often pointed to an email written by Mr. Spanier about the incident, after the decision was made to go to Mr. Sandusky himself, instead of alerting the 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,” wrote Mr. Spanier. That could be assessed later, he wrote. For now, he said, speaking to Mr. Sandusky directly was a “humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”

Prosecution witnesses included Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz, as well as Mike McQueary, an ex-assistant coach who reported seeing Mr. Sandusky in the shower with the boy, and a victim of Mr. Sandusky’s who said he was abused the following year, in 2002.

Mr. Spanier’s lawyers called no witnesses in his defense, but, according to media reports, told the jury that prosecutors had failed to provide evidence that he knew Mr. Sandusky was accused of sexual abuse. Instead, they said, he made a “judgment call” and took action about what he knew.

Mr. Spanier’s lawyers have said the charges against him were politically motivated and an attempt to distract from state prosecutors’ failures to stop Mr. Sandusky sooner.