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Penn State's Spanier gets jail for role in Sandusky scandal

State prosecutors accused the men of endangering children by failing to alert child-welfare authorities after learning Jerry Sandusky was caught in 2001 with a boy in a campus locker-room shower.

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier second from left, arrives for his sentencing at the Dauphin County Courthouse Friday June 2, 2017 in Harrisburg, Pa.
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier second from left, arrives for his sentencing at the Dauphin County Courthouse Friday June 2, 2017 in Harrisburg, Pa.Read moreBradley C Bower / For the Philadelphia Inquirer

HARRISBURG — Former Pennsylvania State University president Graham B. Spanier was ordered Friday to spend at least two months in jail and another two months on house arrest for endangering children by failing to report signs that Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing boys.

Judge John Boccabella also sentenced Spanier to pay a $7,500 fine and perform 200 hours of community service. Two other former aides, ex-athletic director Gary Schultz and onetime vice president Tim Curley, got similar terms of jail followed by house arrest.

"These men are good people who made a terrible mistake," the judge said. But he chided the three — and others connected to the scandal, including the late coach Joe Paterno — for what he said was an inexcusable failure: "Why no one made a phone call to police … is beyond me."

Spanier, Curley and Schultz are to begin serving their sentences July 15, authorities said.

Friday's nearly four-hour-long hearing capped what had been the controversial prosecution of top Penn State administrators who investigators said had a chance to stop a serial sex predator but instead chose to protect the school and their own reputations.

At the center was Spanier, now 69, who once ranked among the nation's most prominent and longest-serving university leaders. Prosecutors with the state Attorney General's Office contended that he decided to bury a claim that Sandusky had been seen showering with a boy one night in a campus locker room in 2001, three years after police investigated a similar allegation about the assistant football coach.

From his ouster after Sandusky's arrest in late 2011 through his trial this spring, Spanier insisted he was innocent and did not realize that Sandusky was a threat to children.

But as he pleaded with the judge for a sentence that would spare him from jail, Spanier apologized to the victims, the Penn State community, and others affected by his actions. "I deeply regret I didn't intervene more forcefully," he said, in a nod to Sandusky's victims.

In a statement after Friday's hearing, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the sentencing "leaves no doubt that there are consequences for failing to protect children in Pennsylvania."

For nearly six years, the case has roiled Penn State and its supporters, stirring conversations and changes across college campuses and their athletic programs. The university has paid out nearly $250 million in settlements, legal bills, fines, public relations and other costs stemming from the scandal. Still ongoing are lawsuits involving the university and Paterno's family, the NCAA, Spanier and Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who oversaw the school's damning internal investigation into the case.

Reaction after the sentencing reflected the divisiveness of the case.

Angela Liddle, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, which provides training for schools, day care centers and others to recognize and report signs of abuse, said the punishments would not erase the damage to victims. But, Liddle said, "it is my hope that by spending some time behind bars, they not only will atone for their crimes, but will spend each day thinking about what they can do to make the world a safer place for children."

Bill Oldsey, an alumni-elected member of Penn State's board of trustees and supporter of the three men, said the punishments were too harsh. "I don't understand why any of our three former administrators are doing any time," he said. "It's overkill."

The initial conspiracy and endangerment case against Spanier and the two other administrators had languished for years, managed through multiple Pennsylvania attorneys general and dissected and reshaped by appellate court decisions.

A week before the trial was finally set to begin in March, Curley and Schultz agreed to plead guilty and testify against their former boss.

But after their testimony was far less damning than prosecutors had hoped, the jury convicted Spanier of misdemeanor child endangerment — the charge to which the others pleaded guilty — while acquitting him of a second endangerment charge and felony conspiracy. Still, his lawyer has indicated he will appeal the verdict, a move likely to delay any jail time.

Prosecutors Laura Ditka and Patrick Schulte were seeking up to a year in jail for Spanier, arguing he was the one who ultimately decided not to report assistant coach Mike McQueary's 2001 shower assault claim to child welfare authorities.

"He was a complete and utter failure as a leader when it mattered the most," Ditka said during Friday's hearing. "He made a choice to protect his reputation, the reputation of his friends and the reputation of the university above the well-being of these children. And that is inexcusable."

Boccabella said he wrestled with the decision. The judge said he was not convinced that Spanier was "totally responsible" for the failure to report Sandusky to authorities, noting that he had relied on the judgment of the other two men. Still, he told Spanier, "the buck stops on your desk, that's why you're here."

"This is a Shakespearean tragedy," said Boccabella. "It is a fall from grace that is unfortunate yet well-deserved."

Spanier and his lawyer, Sam Silver, declined to comment as they left the courthouse.

At the trial, McQueary testified that the conduct he saw in the locker room shower was sexual in nature and that he reported it to Paterno. The head coach then notified Curley and Schultz, who discussed the matter with Spanier.

Jurors were shown emails that the prosecutors said showed the men hatched a plan to keep the matter quiet.

"The only downside for us is if the message isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it," Spanier told Curley and Schultz in a 2001 email exchange, saying it was a "humane and a reasonable way" to deal with Sandusky.

Of the three men, Spanier ultimately received the lightest sentence — four to 12 months, with at least two months in jail and two more under house arrest. Schultz, 67, was sentenced to six to 23 months, with at least two in jail and four on house arrest. Curley, 63, received the harshest penalty: seven to 23 months, with at least three in jail and four on house arrest. Both also were fined and ordered to perform community service.

In sentencing memos, prosecutors accused Curley in particular of "astonishing" and unbelievable memory lapses on the witness stand. They did not recommend a specific sentence, but agreed that Curley should be allowed to serve any custodial sentence at home because of his health. Curley has battled lung cancer for more than six years.

The judge still ordered him to jail.

"I find it really hard to believe he doesn't remember every detail of the most serious mistake he made in his life," Boccabella said of Curley.

The judge also said others could have done more to stop or unmask Sandusky — including Paterno, who died in the weeks after Sandusky's arrest.

"Mr. Paterno, the legendary football coach, could have made that phone call without so much as getting his hands dirty," the judge said. And of McQueary, Boccabella said: "He wasn't a child. He was an adult."

In an interview late Friday afternoon, Paterno's son, Jay, said he believed the judge's words misrepresented what actually happened. His father, he said, notified his superiors, as required under state law and university policy.

"He did pick up the phone, and he did make that call," Paterno said.

Boccabella saved his strongest words for Spanier, Curley and Schultz — "pillars of the community," he said, who had won awards for their work but lacked the common sense to call authorities when they were given disturbing information about Sandusky.

"It robs my faith in who we are as adults," the judge said, "and where we are going."

Staff writer Susan Snyder contributed to this article.