Jury selection begins in Penn State ex-president of the trial

Former Penn State president Graham Spanier walks to the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, 20 March 2017.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Jury selection began Monday in the trial of Penn State’s former president on charges that he put kids in danger by mishandling child abuse complaints about retired assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Graham Spanier declined to comment as he went to a Harrisburg courthouse for a trial that could last a week or more. It also might bring to the stand two former top lieutenants who have recently struck plea bargains.

The selection of the Jury, it was a slow start as lawyers last questions of the potential jurors will be questioned about sexual abuse and other sensitive topics.

Spanier, 68, is accused of two counts of endangering the welfare of children and a single conspiracy charge, all felonies. Former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley pleaded guilty last week to a single felony count of child endangering, and they await sentencing.

The charges stem from the treatment of a report in 2001 that Sandusky was apparently abused a boy in a team shower. Plaintiffs say that their failure to report that to the authorities permitted Sandusky to continue to abuse boys and also endangered others.

Sandusky was not arrested until 2011, after the prosecutors received an anonymous tip about the shower incident, witnessed by assistant coach Mike McQueary. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving 30 to 60 years in prison.

Shortly after Sandusky’s arrest, Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno was fired over his handling of the case. He was the first school official to hear McQueary’s account of the shower incident.

One of the winningest coaches in college football history, Paterno died of lung cancer a few months later at the age of 85. He was never prosecuted.

Spanier was forced out as president when Sandusky, Curley and Schultz were charged in 2011, but Spanier was not charged until the following year.

He has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, saying Curley and Schultz characterizes the incident in the shower as a noise and not a form of child abuse.

A report commissioned by the university and carried out by a team led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh concluded that Paterno and the three others hushed up the allegations against Sandusky for fear of bad publicity.

McQueary testified on several occasions about how he went to Paterno a day after the shower encounter to discuss what he had seen. Paterno notified Curley and Schultz, and McQueary met with both of them about a week later. In 2011, the grand jury testimony, Paterno said he was told by McQueary the meeting involved “darling” and “a sexual nature”, but wasn’t quite sure of what the law was.

The administrators told Sandusky he could not bring children on campus anymore, but they had no plan for the enforcement of that rule, the prosecutor said.

An important piece of evidence is likely to be an email exchange that the Freeh team obtained in the three high officials discussed how they should deal with the 2001 shower incident. Spanier approved of Curley tell Sandusky to get professional help, or the face of a report of the state of the child welfare agency.

“The only downside for us is if the message is not ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” Spanier said. He called the plan “humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”

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