March 24 (UPI) — Graham B. Spanier, a former president of the Pennsylvania State University, was acquitted Friday of two felony criminal charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal — but was convicted on one misdemeanor count of child endangerment.
Spanier, the college’s president at the time of the scandal, learned his judgment on the second day of jury deliberations Friday at the Harrisburg, Pa., courthouse.
Prosecutors argued that Spanier had been aware there was possible child sexual abuse happening on the State College, Pa., campus, but chose to ignore it. Two other ousted university officials — former athletic director Timothy M. Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz — testified against Spanier at trial.
State attorneys said Spanier knew about the issue as early as 2001, when coaching assistant Mike McQueary reported that he’d seen Sandusky and a boy showering naked in a locker room, but did nothing.
Defense attorneys insisted that Spanier was never told the conduct witnessed by McQueary was sexual or criminal in nature, and that it was wrong for authorities to criminalize one instance of bad judgment.
“There always have been substantial questions in this case that need to be reviewed and resolved by the appellate courts, and we fully intend to pursue an appeal,” defense attorney Sam Silver said.
Sandusky, an assistant football coach at the school between 1969 and 1999, was allowed to remain close to the program for years afterward. He was arrested in 2011 and found guilty seven months later of sexually abusing 10 young boys. He is serving a prison sentence of 30 to 60 years. In 2013, the university agreed to pay nearly $60 million to settle potential legal claims from about two dozen other purported victims.
As a result of the misdemeanor child endangerment conviction, Spanier, 68, faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He was found not guilty of felony endangerment and conspiracy, which would have brought a much more severe sentence.
“First and foremost, our thoughts remain with the victims of Jerry Sandusky,” the university said in a statement Friday. “While we cannot undo the past, we have re-dedicated ourselves and our University to act always with the highest integrity, in affirming the shared values of our community.
“We remain firmly committed today and in the future to societal progress in the fight to protect the wellbeing of all children.”
Last week, Curley, 62, and Schultz, 67, each pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor charge Spanier was convicted of. All three — along with iconic football head coach Joe Paterno — were ultimately forced to resign from their positions at the university over the scandal.
“They consciously turned their backs, and the abuse continued,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Friday. “These leaders endangered the welfare of children by both their actions and inactions. There are zero excuses when it comes to failing to report the abuse of children to the appropriate authorities.”