May 2 (UPI) — A federal judge in Pennsylvania overturned the conviction of former Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier, saying he was tried for child endangerment charges under laws that didn’t exist at the time of his offense.
U.S. District Judge Karoline Mehalchick said it was unconstitutional for Spanier to be tried for a crime he allegedly committed in 2001 under a law that came into existence in 2007. Her ruling came one day before Spanier was scheduled to report to prison.
A jury convicted Spanier of one misdemeanor count of child endangerment in 2017 for being aware of possible child sexual abuse on the State College, Pa., campus but choosing to ignore it. State attorneys said Spanier knew about the issue as early as 2001 when coaching assistant Mike McQueary reported that he’d seen coach Jerry 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.
The law in place in 2001 at the time of the alleged abuse did not require supervisors to report suspected abuse. That was added in 2007.
Mehalchick gave prosecutors three months to retry Spanier’s case under the 2001 law.
Trying Spanier under the 2007 law “unreasonably expanded the scope of the pre-amendment child endangerment statute in such a way that it would have been unforeseeable to Spanier in 2001 that his conduct could result in criminal culpability,” the judge wrote.
Sandusky, an assistant football coach at the school between 1969 and 1999, who was allowed to remain close to the program for years afterward, 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.
In February, a Philadelphia appeals court ordered the re-sentencing of Sandusky, saying his initial sentence went against a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against mandatory sentencing minimums in some cases. The high court ruling determined that a jury must evaluate aspects of the case that could result in a longer sentence, but a judge handed down Sandusky’s punishment.