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Attorney General says Sandusky Investigation Inexplicably Delayed, but no Evidence of Political Influence

by on June 23, 2014 10:07 AM

The Office of the Attorney General released a report Monday morning that indicates authorities took too long to investigate the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse crimes.

However, the report says there is no evidence to show any issues or "missteps" were politically motivated.

The report – drafted by Special Deputy Attorney General H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr. and released Monday morning in Harrisburg – alleges that "the investigation took too long because of crucial missteps and inexplicable delays in bringing a serial child molester to justice."

Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Moulton both appeared at a press conference at 10:30 a.m. Monday inside the state capitol to discuss the report.

At issue is how the attorney general's office, under the leadership of Gov. Tom Corbett, who was attorney general at the time, handled the investigation of Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach who is now a convicted pedophile. Sandusky is serving 30-60 years in prison. He was convicted on 45 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.

The report states there is no evidence to support speculation that politics influenced the decision-making process in the investigation. At the same time, the report concludes that the decision not to file charges sooner fits "within acceptable bounds of prosecutorial discretion, though other prosecutors might reasonably have decided differently."

The report alleges the investigation lasted one year – March 2009 to March 2010 – before the attorney general's office recommended charging Sandusky "because basic investigative steps were not taken, including searching Sandusky's home."

Then, in March 2010, prosecutor Jonelle Eshbach recommended filing multiple charges against Sandusky based on information obtained from Victim 1 and other evidence. However, the report alleges leadership in the attorney general's office "failed to act on that recommendation for five months despite repeated requests from Eshbach and the mother of Victim 1."

Eshbach wrote in a July 14, 2010 email to attorney general leaders Richard Sheetz, Frank Fina and Christopher Carusone, "The grand jury asked me again, as they have for the last four months, why we don't have that particular presentment for them. They are very anxious to approve it. Likewise, I continue to get calls and mail from the victim's mother and therapist. Can someone please tell me what the hold up is?"

The same day, Sheetz forwards the email to Ryan William, who served as first deputy attorney general at the time, "FYI. Maybe we can talk to Tom about this on Friday, too. (And, we don't like Jonelle's tone on this.)"

In August 2010, senior leadership reportedly told Eshbach to either obtain better corroboration for Victim 1 or additional victims were necessary for the case to proceed and charges to be filed against Sandusky.

The report also alleges that between March and August 2010 authorities made no effort to locate additional victims, did not interview witnesses or serve subpoenas, nor revisit the idea of searching Sandusky's home or looking for earlier allegations of misconduct.

The report says the decision by the attorney general's office to locate more victims indicates why the investigation was delayed. However, the report says several factors contributed to the delay in locating more victims, "including miscommunication at the outset," requirements that child abuse allegations that are found to be unfounded be expunged from court records, and "the failure to take certain steps earlier in the investigation that proved to be fruitful later."

The report indicates authorities did not search Sandusky's home for more than two years after the attorney general's office received the case and more than one year after Eshbach wrote the first presentment.

"As one expert in the investigation of child molesters put it, 'The major law enforcement problem with the use of search warrants in child sexual victimization cases is that they are not obtained soon enough.' That was certainly the case in the Sandusky investigation. The search uncovered, among other things, many photographs of already identified Sandusky victims, as well as lists of Second Mile campers with handwritten asterisks next to their names. Had the search been conducted in 2009 or 2010, investigators could have used the photographs and names with asterisks to find victims much earlier than they did," the report states.

The report also suggests authorities "barely used" the grand jury investigating tool until 2011.

Ryan, Sheetz, Fina, Randy Feathers and Joseph McGettigan – all attorney general investigators involved with the Sandusky case – issued a joint response to the report June 11.

"The report makes clear that all of the investigative choices made were properly motivated and clearly supportable, and that they were arrived at by use of the sound discretion of career law enforcement professionals," the group states. "We applaud any who aided in the proper rebuttal of unfounded and ill-informed claims to the contrary."

The group says investigative decisions were based on previous investigative experience and without the benefit of having all of the pieces of the Sandusky puzzle in advance.

"The report points out some of the choices we made and how they allegedly could have been done differently, yet what must not be lost is one basic, unimpeachable fact: the investigation – and the choices made therein – led to the conviction on 45 counts of this state's worst molester. Given the outcome, we stand by the choices we made," the group states.

The group also accused Kane and Moulton of drafting and releasing the report for political reasons.

When running for office, Kane, a Democrat, promised to investigate how authorities handled the case, at least in part to see if decisions were politically motivated as Corbett, a Republican, was running for governor at the time.

"To us, the career professionals who investigated and prosecuted this case, the report was clearly born of political opportunism and posturing," the group states.

The group also claims the report includes "contextual errors, factual errors, presumptions and conclusions that are not meritorious."

Specifically, the group says, "The report's conclusions about the timing of the search warrant for Sandusky's residence embody the abuse of hindsight. The conclusion that the search warrant could have and should have been pursued prior to 2011 is factually and legally offensive."

The group argues that when it received the case, the initial claims were varied and uncorroborated and executing a search warrant at that point risked suppression of the warrant.

"The costs of such suppression would have been enormous," the group states. "Suppression ... would not have only meant the loss of any evidence acquired at (Sandusky's) residence, but also the loss of the ability to ever charge Sandusky for any victims subsequently identified as a result of information or evidence found in his residence ... "

The report also criticizes investigators for failing to uncover the 1998 Penn State University police report regarding allegations against Sandusky.

"The report fails to note, in any manner, that the 1998 police report and all documentation and indications of its existence, had been hidden by the university," the group states.

The group was referring to the ongoing criminal case involving three former Penn State administrators who are accused of covering up the Sandusky abuse. It is alleged, according to court documents, that administrators may have attempted to hide those documents from authorities.

Additionally, Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan challenged the merits of the report in a June 5 response. 

"PSP respects that Mr. Moulton was told to review a comprehensive investigation in a very high-profile matter in which he had no involvement," Noonan says. "PSP understands the temptations that the public spotlight and the benefit of hindsight and 16 months of deliberation involve, specifically, enticing a second-guessing of the decisions made by investigators and prosecutors in spite of the successful prosecution of Mr. Sandsuky. However, Mr. Moulton's hindsight does not equate to the investigators' experience of actually having conducted the investigation, interviewing the witnesses and assessing their credibility, working through obstacles and roadblocks, and making immensely difficult decisions in real time."

Corbett's attorney, Mark Zimmer, said in a June 11 letter to Moulton that Corbett "wishes to make no formal response to the report at this time."

"This was a full and fair review," Kane said in a prepared statement released just before the press conference. "The facts show an inexcusable lack of urgency in charging and stopping a serial sexual predator. The report documents that more investigative work took place in just one month in 2011 than in all of either 2009 or 2010."

Moulton and Special Agent in Charge David Peifer led the investigation into how authorities handled the Sandusky case.

"These types of post-action reviews are vitally important," Moulton said in a prepared statement ahead of the press conference. "Our goal was to provide a factual, unbiased review of this investigation and to identify any ways that law enforcement can do a better job of protecting children."

Moulton's report makes the following recommendations:

- The attorney general's office should rely more heavily on collaborating with child sexual abuse investigators and children services at the local level.

- In high-priority cases, senior management should be more involved, direct greater attention to the case and make quicker decisions.

- The attorney general's office should make child abuse education and outreach a higher priority.

- The state legislature should implement legislation recommended by the Task Force on Child Protection.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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