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March 24, 2017

Former Penn State Prez convicted of single misdemeanor court of child endangerment for role in Sandusky sex offense scandal

As reported in this local article, "Graham B. Spanier, the former Pennsylvania State University president once considered one of the nation’s most prominent college leaders, was convicted Friday of endangering children by failing to act on signs that Jerry Sandusky was a serial sex predator." Here is more (with key sentencing factors highlighted):

After nearly 12 hours of deliberation, the jury of seven women and five men found Spanier guilty of a single misdemeanor count of endangerment. He was acquitted of a second endangerment count, as well as a felony count of conspiracy.

Still, the guilty verdict was a stunning blow to Spanier, 68, who had long proclaimed his innocence, and to his supporters, who had fiercely defended him and accused prosecutors of overreaching and unfairly staining the university. Many, including his wife, Sandra, a Penn State English professor, were in the Dauphin County Courtroom to hear the verdict. Spanier didn't appear to react when the verdict was read in a hushed courtroom.

Prosecutors said he agreed in 2001 with two Penn State administrators at the time, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz, not to report assistant coach Mike McQueary's claim that Sandusky was caught after hours with a young boy in a campus locker-room shower.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who this year took over the office that spent had nearly a decade investigating and prosecuting the Sandusky case, said the verdict showed no one is above the law. "There are zero excuses when it comes to failing to report the abuse of children to authorities," he said.

Spanier's lawyer, Sam Silver, said they were heartened by the jury's acquittal on two counts and would appeal the guilty verdict on the third. That count had originally been a felony count, but jurors downgraded it to a misdemeanor.

Emails show that the three men knew Sandusky, a longtime assistant to head football coach Joe Paterno, had been investigated by university police after a similar claim in 1998. They first decided to report the 2001 incident to child-welfare authorites, but then changed that plan. Instead, they agreed to talk to Sandusky, bar him from bringing boys on campus, and share the report with the president of Second Mile, the charity Sandusky started for vulnerable children.

Sandusky sexually assaulted at least four more children after the 2001 incident, including another boy in a campus shower the next year, jurors were told. That victim was among the witnesses who testified this week. Both Schultz and Curley pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution, although a deputy attorney general told jurors in her closing argument that they were not the government's star witnesses.

Spanier opted not to testify. His lawyers argued that the prosecution didn't present any evidence that Spanier knew Sandusky was a child sex abuser or that he knowingly conspired to cover up a crime. Spanier, who rose to national prominence as Penn State's leader for 16 years, has maintained that he acted appropriately in 2001 based on the information he had at the time. He contends he was told by his lieutenants that Sandusky's behavior with the boy in the shower amounted to "horseplay."

Followers of federal sentencing know that a jury's acquittal on some but not all counts may sometimes not be a huge sentencing benefit to defendants given that sentencing guideline recommendations can be based on acquitted and uncharged conduct established by merely a preponderance of the evidence.  But the impact of the split verdict in this high-profile state case is seemingly quite significant because the defendant is now only facing sentencing on a single misdemeanor count (which I presume means he could not get more than a year in jail).

I find it quite interesting (and somewhat curious) that a jury apparently has authority under Pennsylvania law to take a count that "had originally been a felony count" and decide it should be "downgraded to a misdemeanor."  This strikes me as fundamentally a sentencing decision being made by a jury, and as an interesting way for the jury in this particular case to send a (mixed) message about the defendant and his criminal activity.

March 24, 2017 at 05:55 PM | Permalink


I interpret the message the jury is trying to send as follows "look the guy is innocent, you got nothing, but if you think we are going to go back into our communities and take smack about letting a sex offender go free you have another thing coming. So here is our fig leaf."

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 24, 2017 7:23:44 PM

BTW here is the answer to Doug's question about the felony.


Under PA law the difference is "An offense under this section constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree. However, where there is a course of conduct of endangering the welfare of a child, the offense constitutes a felony of the third degree."

So what the jury found was that there was no course of conduct, only a single instance.

Further, "1) A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age, or a person that employs or supervises such a person, commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support.

(2) A person commits an offense if the person, in an official capacity, prevents or interferes with the making of a report of suspected child abuse under 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 (relating to child protective services)."

But what is not clear from this statute (though maybe the jury instructions made clear) is whether parts one and two are conjoined with OR or AND. It seems to me that what the jury found is that he likely "interfered" with making a report of child abuse. That is plausible given that they changed their minds about reporting. But I don't see how they could have found "he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support." because to me that vague. What is this duty and what evidence need to be produced to show that he /knowingly/ did it. That is a high mens rea.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 24, 2017 7:39:07 PM

Is there a legal duty to report crime? Is a university president a mandated reporter of child sexual abuse?

You are a volunteer parent, selling hotdogs at a high school football game. You put in time and effort to raise money to buy uniforms. You must now get a sex offender clearance. Pennsylvania is nuts, and will be made to pay for its tyranny.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 24, 2017 11:43:30 PM

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