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Former Penn State chief Spanier denies cover-up allegations, evokes abuses as a child

Fending off allegations that he covered up Jerry Sandusky's crimes against children, former Pennsylvania State University president Graham B. Spanier on Monday marshaled a period of his own past he rarely discusses: that he, too, was violently abused in childhood.

Fending off allegations that he covered up Jerry Sandusky's crimes against children, former Pennsylvania State University president Graham B. Spanier on Monday marshaled a period of his own past he rarely discusses: that he, too, was violently abused in childhood.

"It is unfathomable and illogical to think that a respected family sociologist and family therapist, someone who personally experienced massive and persistent abuse as a child . . . would have knowingly turned a blind eye to any report of child abuse or predatory sexual acts directed at children," Spanier wrote in a five-page letter to Penn State's trustees.

The document constitutes Spanier's most detailed defense to the scathing report released this month by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. It could also provide a road map to his criminal defense should he face charges in the future.

Though Spanier has not been charged in connection with the Sandusky case, a state grand jury continues to examine his handling of allegations against the former assistant football coach, sources close to the investigation have said.

Two Penn State administrators, athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a former vice president in charge of campus police, already face charges of perjury and failure to report child abuse. Sandusky was convicted last month on 45 counts of sex abuse involving 10 boys, many of whom he molested on Penn State's campus.

Spanier's letter was not the first time since he came to Penn State in 1973 that he has referred to years of beatings at the hands of his father.

"His marriage was dismal, his family life was decidedly unhappy, and his abusive behavior toward his wife and children, tolerated in the 1950s, would have resulted in legal intervention today," he said of his father in a 1989 speech published by the Journal of Marriage and Family.

In addition to invoking that history on Monday, Spanier described Freeh's findings as "full of factual errors." He said he could not recall e-mail exchanges he had about a 1998 police investigation of Sandusky, and insisted that when a second accusation against Sandusky surfaced in 2001, he was never told it involved sexual abuse.

"As I have stated in the clearest possible terms, at no time during my presidency did anyone ever report to me that Jerry Sandusky was observed abusing a child or youth or engaged in a sexual act with a child or youth," he wrote.

As for the claim that he kept the university's board in the dark last year as prosecutors built their case, along with Curley and Schultz, Spanier offered a simple explanation: That was somebody else's fault.

"In reporting to the trustees, I was guided by and followed all instructions from the university's general counsel," he said, referring to Cynthia Baldwin, the former state Supreme Court justice who held the post until last month. "She told me very little about how she was handling the grand jury investigation."

He offered no explanation for why, as the university's chief executive, he did not seek more information from Baldwin about a case he knew at the time involved allegations of crimes purportedly committed on campus.

Spanier, who has not spoken publicly since resigning last year in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, took the brunt of the criticism in Freeh's July 12 report, commissioned by Penn State trustees. The 267-page document paints the former president as a cavalier administrator overconfident in his ability to handle any crisis on his own.

As the case against Sandusky mounted, Freeh found, Spanier downplayed its significance and stonewalled trustees who questioned its potential impact on the university.

Specifically, Freeh's report challenged several statements Spanier made last year to a grand jury - among them his testimony that he had no knowledge campus police had investigated the former coach for inappropriately touching two boys in a football locker-room shower as far back as 1998.

E-mails cited in Freeh's report showed that Spanier was included on at least two conversations that provided updates on the 1998 incident.

Centre County prosecutors decided not to press charges at the time, but at his trial last month, Sandusky was convicted on counts stemming from that incident.

"I have no recollection of any conversations on the topic or any other e-mails from that era sent to me or by me," Spanier said in his letter Monday.

As for accusations that emerged in 2001 when then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported spotting Sandusky molesting a boy in another shower-room incident, Spanier stood by his statements to the grand jury.

"I never heard a word about abusive or sexual behavior, nor were there any other details presented that would have led me to think along those lines," he wrote. "McQueary's name was never mentioned to me, and it is clear that Curley and Schultz had not spoken to him yet when they gave me their initial heads-up. I was in fact told that the witness wasn't sure what he saw."

Freeh's report included several e-mails that suggested Spanier, Curley, and Schultz considered reporting the incident to outside authorities but decided against it.

Instead, they opted to confront Sandusky themselves, an option the then-president described as "humane."

Spanier's letter said his use of that word "refers specifically and only to my thought that it was humane of Tim to wish to inform Sandusky first and to allow him to accompany Tim to the meeting with the president of the Second Mile," the charity for troubled youths that Sandusky founded. "Moreover, it would be humane to offer counseling to Sandusky if he didn't understand why this was inappropriate and unacceptable to us."

As for his failure to communicate the looming crisis to trustees in 2011, Spanier reserved blame for Baldwin.

He accused her of never notifying him of incoming subpoenas, including the one demanding his own visit to the grand jury. She also failed to share that she had sat in on the grand jury testimony of both Curley and Schultz, he said.

In a statement released after the Freeh report, Baldwin's attorney, Charles De Monaco, said, "Cynthia Baldwin at all times fulfilled her obligations to the university and its agents." Asked for comment Monday on Spanier's letter, De Monaco referred to the statement.

Spanier, 64, resigned under pressure in November, but remains a tenured faculty member.

Spanier emphasized in his letter that federal officials had scrutinized his security clearances again after the Sandusky scandal broke and reaffirmed them.