You remember Jerry Sandusky, right?
He’s the former Penn State assistant football coach and pedophilic monster who started a foundation, The Second Mile, in order to gain sexual access to prepubescent boys, hundreds of whom he molested, until eight heroic ones stepped forward to tell a jury about their ordeals in 2012, resulting in the sixty-eight-year-old Sandusky’s thirty-to-sixty-year prison term.
If you recall anything else about the case, it is probably the wrenching story of the ten-year-old “little boy in the shower,” who, on February 9, 2001, was seen being raped by Sandusky in a Penn State athletic facility. For some reason the witness, a hulking former quarterback named Mike McQueary, didn’t intervene, but on the next morning he did go straight to the legendary football coach Joe Paterno and tell him about the sodomy.
Paterno conferred with the university’s athletic director, Tim Curley, who then involved a vice president, Gary Schultz, and the president, Graham Spanier. Instead of reporting the crime to the police, however, the three officials conspired to cover it up, thus sparing scandal to their all-important football program. As for the rape victim, he couldn’t appear in person at Sandusky’s trial, because nobody knew who he was.
But there’s a problem with what you remember. It’s sheer folklore. True, Sandusky took a shower with a boy. That’s what he often did, quite openly, after a workout together, and the showers typically included innocent horseplay. That behavior had been commonplace in the recreation center where Sandusky was raised.
As for the incident in question, Mike McQueary initially misremembered its date by more than a year, and then probably misdated it again; he wasn’t at all sure he had glimpsed a sex act, and that’s why he had done nothing to stop it; he evidently didn’t mention it to Paterno until weeks later, and then only in passing; and his subsequent inaction and cordiality toward Sandusky indicated that he had reconsidered his initial concern
Most crucially, when a grand jury indictment mentioned sodomy, McQueary protested that his testimony, which prosecutors had been nudging him to make more graphic, had been misconstrued. The email he received in response from Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach said in part, “I know that a lot of this stuff is incorrect and that it is hard not to respond. But you can’t.” In other words, Eshbach and her team had suborned perjury and were still intending to nail Sandusky with it.
As it happened, they failed in that instance. The jury, reasoning that too much time had elapsed since an event that had no identified victim, and taking note of conflicting versions narrated by McQueary, acquitted Sandusky on the charge. This would be the single greatest irony of the many-sided Sandusky case. When the grand jury presentment became known in November 2011, an accusation that would fail to be sustained in July 2012 completed Sandusky’s demonization in the media.
A verdict of not guilty, of course, doesn’t exclude the possibility that a crime was committed. But in this instance, definitive proof of innocence lay at hand. Sandusky remembered the shower and the name of his companion, Allan Myers, who had been nearly fourteen, not ten, at the time; and Myers’s ongoing relation to Sandusky wasn’t that of a rape victim to a perpetrator. On the contrary, he was a virtual member of the Sandusky household both before and after the infamous shower.
Jerry and his wife Dottie had taken Myers with them on two trips to California, and he had lived with them for months in 2005. At Myers’s request, Jerry had delivered the commencement address at his high school graduation; and they had been photographed arm in arm at Myers’s wedding.
But what if Allan Myers simply wasn’t “the little boy in the shower”? Not possible. At age twenty-four he, too, still remembered the incident, and when he learned that it figured in the criminal case, he gave a sworn statement to Sandusky’s lawyers:
I would usually work out one or two days a week, but this particular night is very clear in my mind. We were in the shower and Jerry and I were slapping towels at each other to sting each other. I would slap the walls and slide on the shower floor, which I am sure you could have heard from the wooden locker area.
While we were engaged in fun as I have described, I heard the sound of a wooden locker door close…. I never saw who closed the locker. The grand jury report says that Coach McQueary said he observed Jerry and I engaged in sexual activity. That is not the truth and McQueary is not telling the truth. Nothing occurred that night in the shower.
Later we will see why Myers, who had previously been grilled by the police and had resisted their attempt to recruit him as a victim, didn’t testify for Sandusky or even identify himself at the trial. The answer will lead to a perspective on the whole Sandusky matter that challenges received opinion to its core.
But first, we have an important book to consider: Graham Spanier’s In the Lions’ Den: The Penn State Scandal and a Rush to Judgment. The author served as Penn State’s president from 1995 to 2011. As the first extended statement by a principal figure in the events of 2011-12, and as a recital that rings true throughout, his book is a precious contribution to our understanding. And though the subtitle’s “rush to judgment” pertains chiefly to Spanier’s own ordeal, his revelations about mischief caused by other players shows how little confidence we can have in the authorities who took Sandusky down.
It may strike you as egotistical on Spanier’s part to be placing himself at the vortex of the Sandusky hurricane. To be sure, his two months in jail and the hatred directed at him year after year were unmerited, and they took a heavy toll.
But they hardly compare to what Sandusky himself has endured: ten years in prison, the first five of which were passed in solitary confinement, and universal vilification that has never let up. But Spanier has a point. If he wasn’t the most abused party in the Penn State scandal, he was the most important target of a plot that I will set forth. And his removal as president, forestalling a due-process approach to the grand jury’s sensational charges, initiated a cascade of bad decisions and real cover-ups from whose consequences the university has by no means recovered.
As president of Penn State, Spanier compiled a superb record of upgrading both research and instruction. He can hardly be blamed for now emphasizing his accomplishments. More pertinently for the trustworthiness of his narrative, no one ever questioned his integrity. Nor, for that matter, had there been any prior complaints against Messrs. Curley, Schultz, and Paterno.
Despite the crude popular belief that Penn State exists only for football, those who knew Paterno understood that he regarded himself as a teacher of ethics and that he characteristically put the university’s interests ahead of his team’s.
Who, then, unless in an atmosphere of general panic, could believe that those four men would jeopardize their honor by hiding the rape of a child by a man who hadn’t even been a university employee at the time? Spanier in particular is offended by the suggestion, for he underwent sadistic childhood whipping, and he reserves a special disgust for perpetrators.
All four of the accused testified that no one had informed them of a sex crime. Their conduct is consistent with no other supposition. They deemed it inappropriate on Sandusky’s part to be showering with kids on campus, and they admonished him never to do it again. And they notified the current head of The Second Mile that its founder had behaved imprudently. Those mild actions were proportionate to the information the four were given. Spanier is strictly correct in asserting that he, Curley, Schultz, and Paterno did nothing wrong.
When the grand jury’s indictment of Sandusky was made public in November 2011, however, it contained an explosive surprise: Curley and Schultz had been indicted, too, for “failure to report,” and an inference could be drawn that they had protected Joe Paterno’s football program.
One of the anachronisms in Pennsylvania’s judicial system is that a grand jury charged with investigating one suspect can scoop up others as well. Curley, Schultz, and Paterno, all of whom had told the grand jury about their handling of the McQueary matter, had been given no inkling that they were targets. Thus the presentment, written by the prosecutors, not the jury, must have been intended to throw the Penn State community into the chaos that ensued.
Now, what could have caused the Pennsylvania attorney general’s team, which had assumed responsibility for the Sandusky case, to harbor a special animus against Penn State? By now the answer to that question, which Spanier lays out with admirable clarity and detail, is known to many people. The attorney general, Linda Kelly, had been hand picked by the Republican governor, Tom Corbett, who had himself been the attorney general preceding Kelly. Corbett had a contentious relation to Penn State in general and to Graham Spanier in particular, and a motive for getting Kelly to do his bidding.
It was common knowledge that Corbett disliked public higher education and was resentful toward Penn State. One of his early moves after assuming office in January 2011 was to announce a devastating cut of 52.4% in the university’s budget. Spanier immediately and dramatically protested, and the legislature took his side.
In Corbett’s eyes, that was an unforgivable humiliation. But he had already contracted negative feelings toward Spanier. In October 2010, when running for office, he had gained the mistaken impression that Spanier was publicly favoring the Democratic candidate, Dan Onorato. Corbett was heard to say that after his election, he would have Spanier’s head.
The leading prosecutor of Sandusky was Frank Fina, chief of the criminal division in the attorney general’s office. The grand jury presentment was his and Jonelle Eshbach’s creation, and both of them were serving Corbett’s wishes as mediated by Attorney General Kelly. As Spanier now explains, the indictment of Curley and Schultz seems to have been motivated by two considerations.
First, their status as accused criminals would prevent them from testifying in Sandusky’s favor with regard to the shower incident. And second, Fina, who was known for tactics of bullying and intimidation, expected that Curley and Schultz would save themselves from jail by turning on Spanier, whose indictment was already foreseen. The big fish to be hauled in wasn’t the ancient Joe Paterno, and it certainly wasn’t the insignificant retiree Jerry Sandusky; it was Spanier.
When the media began depicting Paterno as a co-conspirator with Curley and Schultz, Spanier knew that a voice of leadership was needed. He announced his personal faith in his accused subordinates, whom he knew to be innocent, and he prepared to call for calm and patience. But Penn State’s trustees were egged on by Governor Corbett, who told them by speakerphone, “Remember that little boy in the shower!”
They forbade Spanier to say another word in public. And the new de facto chairman of the trustees, John Surma, a former CEO of U.S. Steel, saw an opportunity to settle a personal grudge against Paterno. (His troubled nephew had been dropped from the football team.) As State College erupted in riots after Paterno’s dismissal, Spanier grasped that his own fate had been decided as well. He quickly resigned, thus temporarily safeguarding some privileges and his pension.
The subsequent behavior of the leading trustees, from November 2011 until right now, offers a textbook example of how to make a bad situation worse. Rather than combat the fiction that Penn State had sacrificed children to the great god Football, they embraced it.
They welcomed draconian sanctions from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, heaped disgrace on the dead Paterno, left Spanier, Curley, and Schultz to twist in the wind, and established a huge fund for the compensation of Sandusky’s as yet unproven victims, as if every one of them had been molested with an assist from Penn State.
The idea was to make a show of remorse and penitence so as to turn a new page with alumni, parents, and donors–and, not incidentally, to keep the 2012 football season from being canceled. That last goal was met, but the stench of hypocrisy has remained in the air.
The trustees’ most craven action was to appoint an “investigative” body whose actual task was to justify their other measures by scapegoating Paterno, Spanier, Curley, and Schultz. The supposedly independent commission, formed at the joint urging of Governor Corbett and Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who was now seeking private employment, worked hand in glove with Corbett, the trustees, Linda Kelly’s point man Frank Fina, and the NCAA, all of whom shared an interest in presuming Sandusky’s guilt and the four sacked officials’ complicity in it.
The Freeh commission didn’t bother to interview principal figures in the case. Although the Federal Investigative Service reaffirmed Spanier’s top-level security clearance after its intensive study determined that the sodomy-in-the-shower tale was bogus, the Freeh commission stonewalled that finding.
And it sketched a vulgar caricature of Spanier’s Penn State as a football-crazy institution whose actual boss had been the dictatorial Joe Paterno. The Freeh report is no longer taken seriously, but its uncritical acceptance in 2012 locked into place America’s media-fed misperception of the entire Sandusky matter.
Understandably, large portions of In the Lions’ Den are taken up with Spanier’s legal vicissitudes, from his indictment in 2012 through his nightmarish jail term in 2021. The saga is beyond Kafkaesque. Spanier was betrayed, in amazing fashion, by Penn State’s legal counsel Cynthia Baldwin, who pretended to act as his personal attorney.
In reality, she was controlled by Frank Fina, who held over her a constant threat of prosecution for having ignored subpoenas to Penn State. Baldwin knew that Spanier was a grand jury target but convinced him otherwise, and at Fina’s insistence she later gave carefully rehearsed false testimony about his alleged orchestration of a cover-up.
For their misconduct, Fina would be suspended from the practice of law and Baldwin would be formally censured and then ostracized by the entire legal community. But a new attorney general, Kathleen Kane, and then yet another one, the Josh Shapiro who is now a lesser-evil candidate for governor, kept the pressure on Spanier, eventually hounding him into jail despite the ruling of a federal appeals panel that the charges against him lacked any merit.
One reward for reading about Spanier’s eight years of legal torment is that one gets an up-close look at Pennsylvania’s judicial system in action. It’s a farce in which political ambition and personal rivalry can determine a defendant’s fate; in which collusion between prosecutors and judges is commonplace; in which some courtroom rulings are determined not by law but by a presumption of guilt; and in which incompetent judges summarily deny appeals in order to support their friends, other incompetent judges.
A fitting symbol of the whole circus is an email network that came to light, consisting of racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic pornography that was shared between Deputy Attorney General Fina and various judges, including two justices of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.
As we have seen, the only part of the Sandusky case that bears on Graham Spanier’s tribulations is the legendary shower and its aftermath. But it’s impossible to read In the Lions’ Den without realizing that it brings into question the fairness of Sandusky’s own prosecution and trial. Spanier and Sandusky were both implacably pursued by Linda Kelly, Jonelle Eshbach, and Frank Fina, who was not above threatening witnesses, making shifty deals with judges, and leaking grand jury testimony in order to pollute a jury pool.
Although Spanier avoids the question of Sandusky’s guilt or innocence, he points out that the alleged pedophile’s trial was rushed; that the prosecution used an old trick in dumping possibly exculpatory documents on the defense when insufficient time remained to read them; and that the judge wouldn’t even allow Sandusky’s lead attorney to resign on grounds that he was unprepared to proceed.
But as you could learn from chapters 14-17 of Mark Pendergrast’s indispensable book The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment (Sunbury Press, 2017), that’s just a sampling of the travesty that ended in a foreordained conviction.
A knowledgeable student of the Sandusky case who reads In the Lions’ Den would be able to infer some previously unnoted linkage between Spanier’s fate and Sandusky’s. For example, in March 2011 the attorney general’s case against Sandusky was on life support. Kelly, Fina, and Eshbach had only two witnesses, Mike McQueary and Sandusky’s main accuser, Aaron Fisher, neither of whom could keep his story straight. But that was the month when Tom Corbett and Graham Spanier waged their battle royal over Penn State’s budget–a battle that ended by putting a target on the victorious Spanier’s back.
Suddenly, new momentum was imparted to the campaign against Sandusky, which was taken into the public sphere. On March 31, feloniously leaked grand jury material found its way into the first of cub reporter Sara Ganim’s lurid articles, which would bear such inflammatory titles as “Former Coach Jerry Sandusky Used Charity to Molest Kids.”
And in the following weeks, twelve employees of the attorney general’s office and many state troopers set out to interview hundreds of ex-Second Milers, some of whom might be willing to declare that Sandusky had molested them. Each interrogated boy or man was told, falsely, that many others had already admitted to having been abused.
The dragnet, however, yielded only a file of tributes to Sandusky’s generosity and sterling character. As one officer grumbled in frustration, his interviewees “believe Sandusky is a great role model for them to emulate.”
Here was precious evidence that Sandusky was no child molester. But Kelly and her team, apparently fired up by Corbett, were now playing hardball. Instead of supplying the police files to Sandusky’s attorneys as required by law, they withheld them and wrote insinuatingly, in their grand jury presentment, “through the Second Mile, Sandusky had access to hundreds of boys.”
By means of their Freeh commission and their lavish, no-questions-asked compensation fund, the Penn State trustees played a significant role in destroying Sandusky. The fund, established before his trial, attracted scammers who reinforced the impression that many more victims of the monster’s abuse were awaiting discovery.
But that wasn’t all. Two local “sex abuse” lawyers, Andrew Shubin and Benjamin Andreozzi, sensed what was coming from Penn State and advertised their services to anyone who looked forward to making a claim.
All of the young men (not boys) who were being prepped to testify against Sandusky answered the call. And someone else did, too: Allan Myers. Just weeks after he had exculpated Sandusky in straightforward terms, he became Shubin’s client and was persuaded to affirm, in a statement evidently written by Shubin, that Sandusky had frequently molested him over a period of years.
Then, as Spanier recounts, Shubin physically hid Myers for the duration of Sandusky’s trial, forestalling a catastrophic cross-examination. And prosecutor Joseph McGettigan, in full awareness of the truth, told Sandusky’s jury that only God knew the shower boy’s identity. When Sandusky was acquitted on the relevant charge, it didn’t matter to Myers and Shubin. They picked up a cool $6.9 million from Penn State.
The other accusers didn’t fare badly, either, sharing with their attorneys sums ranging from $1.5 to $20 million, depending on the extremity of their reported suffering. The highest settlement went to an accuser, a good friend of the Sanduskys through at least October 2011, who now said Jerry had assaulted him about 150 times and on one occasion had locked him in his basement, starved him, and raped him anally and orally over a three-day period while Dottie Sandusky, one floor above, ignored his screams.
This was at a time when Jerry, already in his sixties, was suffering from prostatitis, dizzy spells, kidney cysts, a brain aneurism, a hernia, bleeding hemorrhoids, chest pains, headaches, hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea, to say nothing of his lifelong testosterone deficiency and of his shrunken testicles, unremarked by any accuser.
But there was another important outcome of the trustees’ munificence (with insurance money). Even after the attorney general’s office, partly with the help of a telephone hotline, had rounded up a handful of previously unconcerned “victims” to supplement the wavering McQueary and Fisher, those who actually knew Sandusky remembered him as a kindly mentor and hesitated to say anything against him.
Worse, not one of them, in boyhood or thereafter, had ever disclosed abuse by Sandusky to anyone. And still worse, none of them, including Aaron Fisher, had gone to the police without being prodded or enticed. Most inconveniently of all, the pre-hotline “victims” harbored no memory of their molestation. They had to have their minds massaged by already convinced therapists, social workers, and cops. But once the prospect of multimillion-dollar payouts hove into view, “memories” began to flow in earnest. Penn State’s trustees deserve the credit for that.
Fisher had been brought around to “recalling” Sandusky’s depredations after many months of treatment by a recovered-memory therapist, Mike Gillum. As Fisher wrote in the book they later coauthored, “It wasn’t until I was fifteen and started seeing Mike that I realized the horror.” Now Shubin and Andreozzi decided to send their Sandusky-case clients to memory spelunkers, with Gillum as their principal resource.
The result was spectacular: an outpouring of “refreshed memories” so grotesque and ridiculous that they needed to be severely winnowed by Linda Kelly’s team. Then Kelly could exult, at a rally on the courthouse steps after Sandusky’s conviction, “it was incredibly difficult for some [victims] to unearth long-buried memories of the shocking abuse” Sandusky had inflicted on them.
Whether the hostile witnesses were driven more by greed or by therapeutic suggestion is impossible to say. We can assert with confidence, though, that Penn State’s pot of gold, descried at the end of the rainbow by Messrs. Shubin and Andreozzi, helped to turn alleged misdemeanors into horrific felonies that would overawe an ingenuous jury.
When no firm evidence can be found to adjudicate between clashing allegations, plausibility can serve as a deciding factor. If, for example, you say you were raped a previously unrecalled 150 times by the same person, you’ll be hard pressed to explain why, after the first devastating trauma, you put yourself in harm’s way on 149 further occasions.
Did repression or dissociation cause each event to be immediately forgotten? But now you’re trafficking in pseudoscience, and your claim can’t be believed, much less allowed in court. (Except in Pennsylvania, that is.)
In the case of the little boy in the shower, sufficient evidence does exist to prove that Graham Spanier, not Frank Fina, was telling the truth about it. There can be no doubt that Allan Myers’s first statements on the matter were the authentic ones. But suppose Myers hadn’t presented himself in support of his benefactor. Then we would have had to choose whom to believe. Everything that is known about Spanier speaks to his credibility; the opposite must be said of Fina.
By the same token, it’s no contest between Fina and the Jerry Sandusky who was known to friends, associates, and the public before Sara Ganim’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism began smearing him in 2011. As Spanier puts it, Sandusky “was perhaps the second most admired figure in central Pennsylvania, and maybe the entire state, through the 1980s and 1990s.”
The coaching of linebackers was subordinate to the help he provided, in person and through his foundation, to some 100,000 at-risk boys, whom he taught to play sports, shun alcohol, drugs, and early sex, and apply themselves to schoolwork. On his retirement from coaching, Sports Illustrated’s cover story named him “Saint Sandusky.”
In order to have molested children with impunity for decades, Sandusky would have had to deploy superhuman powers of stealth, guile, and intimidation. But if you watch interviews with him on YouTube, you will see an earnest, unsubtle man who has trouble even fathoming the questions posed to him. That picture is consistent with the Jerry known to his family, friends, and associates: a grown-up Boy Scout who eschewed alcohol and tobacco, and a Bible-reading Methodist who practiced the Golden Rule.
No one can say whether there was an erotic component to the affection Jerry showed to the relatively small number of boys he personally supervised. The point to bear in mind is that we don’t customarily send people to prison for their thoughts and feelings. And if it’s sexual abuse to hug an abandoned or neglected twelve-year-old, we’re all in trouble.
Sandusky, Paterno, Spanier, Curley, Schultz. They represent diverse levels of sophistication, but they all devoted themselves to Penn State and were betrayed by it. The university’s clumsy and then stupidly cruel trustees have tried to restore trust at those men’s expense.
It hasn’t worked, because Paterno’s memory is still sacred to many. Next–we already see signs of it–they will ease up on Paterno alone, hoping that will do the trick. In the Lions’ Den will help in that effort by proving that Joe behaved honorably to the end. But another guiltless man is being left to rot in prison. Does anyone out there care about simple justice?
This content originally appeared on Dissident Voice and was authored by Frederick Crews.