The Pennsylvania Superior Court’s recent unanimous decision to overturn the child endangerment conviction for a Catholic Church leader could have a direct impact on the case against three former Penn State administrators accused of similar crimes.
Caroline Roberto, the defense attorney for former Athletic Director Tim Curley, told StateCollege.com the court’s ruling shows Pennsylvania’s Endangering the Welfare of Children law does not apply to her client.
“The superior court’s interpretation of the Endangering the Welfare of a Child law supports our interpretation that the law does not apply to Mr. Curley,” Roberto said. “Although every case is different on the facts we believe and have believed the endangering the welfare of a child charge was prosecutorial overreach and we will continue to fight the charges.”
At issue is the recently overturned conviction by the Pennsylvania Superior Court of Msgr. William Lynn for allegedly helping to cover up the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal within the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
A Philadelphia judge sentenced Lynn to 3 to 6 years in prison for allegedly transferring priests accused of child molestation to other, unsuspecting parishes.
The Superior Court overturned the guilty conviction of child endangerment because at the time the crimes occurred, state law only allowed a conviction of such a crime if the accused was either a parent or caregiver of the child involved.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the General Assembly approved a law to include other parties, such as institutional supervisors.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams issued a statement Monday saying the Superior Court did not follow the law set down by the Supreme Court and he intends to appeal the decision.
“The verdict in this case is legally sound, and moreover it is important,” says Williams. “It is important to this community and it is important nationally. The inaction of William Lynn destroyed countless lives and he belongs in prison for that. That is why I believe this Superior Court panel decision is more than just legally wrong. Unlike the usual legal error that just hurts parties in the case, this legal error does harm in so many ways to so many people. And that is why this office will do whatever we can to make sure this decision does not stand.”
State College defense attorney Matt McClenahen says the attorney general’s case against three former Penn State administrators for allegedly covering up the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal is quickly crumbling.
“It looks like the commonwealth’s case is in trouble now,” McClenahen says. “As this case has moved forward it looks like the commonwealth’s case is getting very difficult.”
McClenahen, who is not involved in either case, says the overturned conviction serves as evidence that the child endangerment charges against former Penn State President Graham Spanier, retired Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz and Curley could be thrown out.
The defendants face child endangerment and perjury charges related to the Sandusky scandal. All are awaiting trial and have pleaded not guilty.
“I just don’t see how you can prosecute somebody for violating a law that did not exist,” McClenahen says. “You can’t apply that retroactively. The superior court was unanimous in its decision. It was a no brainer.”
In Lynn’s case, McClenahen says the case never should have gone to a jury. He also criticized the judge for sentencing Lynn to state prison instead of allowing bail while the case was on appeal. Lynn served 18 months in prison and a judge granted him bail Monday.
“It seems pretty vindictive on the part of the trial judge,” McClenahen says.
While the overturned conviction for Lynn could impact the child endangerment charge against Spanier, Curley and Schultz, it would not have any bearing on the perjury charge. The men are accused of lying on the stand during the grand jury investigation related to Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator who was convicted for sexually abusing boys and sentenced to 30-60 years in prison.
However, other matters could impact the perjury charges. Specifically, the controversial testimony of former Penn State General Counsel Cynthia Baldwin who the defendants say was serving as their defense attorney during the grand jury investigation. Baldwin later testified against the men.
Baldwin has maintained she represented the university during the Sandusky investigation, not any individual university employee.
“I just can’t fathom how Cynthia Baldwin cannot be considered their lawyer when Curley and Schultz say she’s their lawyer and the judge allows her to stay in the room,” McClenahen says.
The state Attorney General’s office is prosecuting Spanier, Curley and Schultz.
Attorney General Spokeswoman Lauren Bozart said via email Monday, “As with any appellate case, we internally review the decisions and determine how they affect cases we are handling. Per the Attorney General’s Office policy regarding ongoing investigations and pending litigation, we have no comment.”