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Pa. Supreme Court Denies Spanier's Request for Appeal

by on February 21, 2019 3:20 PM

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier may soon be serving out a jail sentence after being denied an appeal by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Spanier had petitioned the state's highest court to hear an appeal of his 2017 conviction on one misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child, stemming from his handling of Mike McQueary's 2001 report about Jerry Sandusky with a boy in a locker room shower. An order from the court on Thursday denied the petition with no further explanation.

"We are pleased by the Supreme Court's decision to deny Graham Spanier's appeal,” Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a news release. “No one is above the law, and my office will continue to pursue anyone who looks the other way in the face of child sexual abuse. There are consequences for failing to protect children in Pennsylvania.”

Spanier was found guilty of the misdemeanor charge on March 24, 2017. He was found not guilty on a second, felony child endangerment charge and a conspiracy charge. Former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz each pleaded guilty to a child endangerment charge ahead of trial and served sentences of two and three months, respectively, in Centre County jail, followed by home confinement and probation.

Spanier was sentenced to two months in jail followed by two months of home confinement, but has remained free pending resolution of his appeals. His attorneys can ask the Supreme Court to reconsider the appeal, but the decision may bring to a conclusion the legal journey of the three Penn State administrators, which dated back to 2011 when Curley and Schultz were charged on allegations that they lied to a grand jury about what they had been told regarding Sandusky.

The former university president was informed in 2001 of McQueary's report by Curley and Schultz. Spanier maintains he was only told of a former coach being engaged in horseplay with a boy and that he was not told of reported sexual abuse. McQueary has testified that he described what he saw to Curley and Schultz as being sexual in nature.

In addition to McQueary's testimony, prosecutors eventually relied in large part upon an email uncovered during Louis Freeh's university-commissioned investigation they said showed the administrators decided not to follow through on a plan to inform child welfare authorities about McQueary's report. A recently-leaked review of the Freeh Report led by alumni-elected Penn State trustees contended that the report left out Spanier's explanation that they did not renege on the plan, that he believed the only issue was that Sandusky had showered with a boy and that the university's outside counsel said if he believed it was sexual abuse, authorities would have been notified.

A special agent who investigated Spanier for federal high-security clearance as Spanier pursued potential government work concluded Spanier committed no wrongdoing.

All three former administrators faced a host of other charges, but the most serious were dismissed in 2016 when a Superior Court panel ruled they were denied effective counsel when testifying before the Grand Jury, believing that university counsel Cynthia Baldwin was representing them personally.

Following his conviction, Spanier's appeals have argued that charges were brought after the statute of limitations expired; that he was not supervising the child and had no duty of care; and that the child endangerment law at the time of the reported incident in 2001 did not apply to Spanier as a supervisor of someone else who may be supervising a child. 

Last year, Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld his conviction in a 2-1 ruling, with the majority writing that an exception based on the presumed age of the child -- who has not been conclusively identified --  allowed for the charges to proceed.

They also wrote that Spanier was aware of an allegation against a "high-status former employee with access  to campus facilities" and cited Spanier's email to Curley and Schultz that they "could become vulnerable for not reporting Sandusky if his behavior continued."

A lack of evidence that Spanier was "specifically responsible" for addressing alleged on-campus abuse of minors did not preclude the conclusion that he was responsible for supervising the welfare of a child, Stabile wrote. Spanier was aware of and oversaw the university's response to the 2001 report, the Superior Court opinion said.

Spanier also has been entangled in lawsuits against both Penn State and Freeh. He and the university have sued each other, with Spanier saying not all the terms of the agreement that ended his presidency have been met and Penn State arguing Spanier violated the agreement and his contract.

In 2017, a judge dismissed Spanier's lawsuit against Freeh, but left open the possibility for Spanier to refile it if his criminal appeal was successful. Spanier had argued that Freeh maliciously published false statements about him and interfered with Spanier's prospects of obtaining a federal government job.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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