BELLEFONTE, Pa. - A jury on Thursday ordered Pennsylvania State University to pay $7.3 million to Mike McQueary, who blamed school officials for destroying his life and coaching career after he emerged five years ago as the star witness against Jerry Sandusky and the administrators accused of covering up Sandusky's sex attacks on boys.
It took four hours for the Centre County panel to find that Penn State officials lied to McQueary when they promised in 2001 to act on his report of seeing Sandusky sexually assault a boy in a campus shower, and then damaged his reputation when Sandusky was finally arrested a decade later.
The verdict, after a two-week trial, offered an unusual window into the searing impact of the serial sex-abuse case.
Jurors heard how McQueary - now jobless, divorced, and living with his parents - was targeted by avid Penn State fans who blamed his allegations for damaging the football program's reputation and for the firing of the school's legendary head coach, Joe Paterno. And they heard from current and former coaches and administrators who said McQueary lost his job as an assistant coach in a routine staff shake-up, and simply wasn't good enough to land another one.
As the verdict was read Thursday, the 6-foot-5 former Nittany Lions quarterback showed little emotion. He declined to comment upon leaving the courthouse.
"What Penn State has done to Mike McQueary is outrageous," his lawyer, Elliot Strokoff, told jurors during his closing argument earlier in the day. "He should not have been a scapegoat in this matter, and certainly not for five years."
Penn State lawyer Nancy Conrad declined to comment or say whether the school would appeal the verdict. She said Senior Judge Thomas Gavin, who presided over the case, had advised both sides not to make public statements.
McQueary's award could grow larger in the coming weeks. Gavin still has to rule on his whistle-blower claim that Penn State ousted him from his $104,000-a-year assistant coaching job because he spoke out about Sandusky and school officials.
And the jury's endorsement of his story could also spell trouble for three of those former officials awaiting trial on child-endangerment charges.
McQueary is expected to play another starring role in their case, revisiting his 2012 turn on the witness stand, when he recounted for Sandusky jurors how he found the defensive coordinator sexually assaulting a boy in a locker-room shower and then reported what he saw to Paterno and two Penn State administrators.
Throughout the trial, Penn State lawyers maintained that the school's decision not to renew McQueary's contract that year had nothing to do with his cooperation with the criminal investigation.
"This is not a case about Jerry Sandusky," Conrad told the jury. "Any harm that Mike McQueary has suffered . . . is the result of his own failures."
In video-recorded testimony shown to the jury, Bill O'Brien - who immediately succeeded Paterno in the head coaching job and has gone on to lead the Houston Texans - said he came to Penn State in 2012 with a list of his own staff he wanted to bring with him. He said that he never considered McQueary for a job and that his decision had nothing to do with Sandusky.
Matt Rhule, Temple University's head coach and one of McQueary's longtime friends and former teammates, told jurors he deemed McQueary too unseasoned to offer him a job when he took over the Owls' program in 2013.
"There was nothing remarkable about Mr. McQueary's resumé," Conrad, the lawyer for the university, told jurors. "He stayed at one school, under one head coach. He had not developed the contacts or the resumé to land a job in this competitive field of professional college football."
But the jury clearly disagreed with those arguments.
Among the claims it settled Thursday, the panel found that former university president Graham B. Spanier defamed McQueary in statements he released in November 2011 in which he publicly expressed support for two colleagues - then-athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz - charged with covering up Sandusky's crimes. The jury also found that Curley and Schultz lied to McQueary in 2001, when he told them what he had seen and they told him they would take care of it.
Jurors awarded McQueary $1.15 million for the defamation, another $1.15 million for Curley and Schultz's misrepresentations, and $5 million in punitive damages.
Whatever the reason for McQueary's dismissal, it became clear through testimony of dozens of witnesses that the impact of the investigation that put Penn State's football culture under a national microscope continues to ripple five years later. And few people, McQueary testified last week, have felt those effects more than he has.
He found himself a pariah in his own hometown in the days after Sandusky's arrest and facing questions over why he did not do more to personally to stop the assault he said he witnessed.
He told jurors last week that he has been unable to find work since Penn State placed him on paid leave, citing safety concerns in the days after Sandusky's arrest, and later decided not to renew his contract.
"He happens to be a very good football coach," Strokoff, his lawyer, told jurors. "But much more important than that is that he is an incredibly decent and good person. . . . Mr. McQueary has endured an awful lot in silence and with dignity."
Since 2012, the school has paid more than $93 million to settle claims from 32 Sandusky accusers, and university officials have acknowledged the school bears some responsibility to the victims of its former assistant football coach, who is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence for the sexual abuse of 10 boys.
Gavin said he expects to issue his ruling on McQueary's whistle-blower claims in the coming weeks.