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Would Joe Paterno Be Facing Criminal Charges?

As you most likely know by now, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly announced yesterday that ousted President Graham Spanier will be charged with eight counts in relation to the Sandusky sex scandal. This news comes in concurrence with additional charges being announced for former administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley.

When this announcement came, I couldn’t help but think what would have happened if Joe Paterno were alive. There have been four men implicated — at least in the media — in this so-called Penn State coverup: Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz, Tim Curley, and of course, the late Joe Paterno. Charges have been filed against the first three, so I have to wonder if Joe Paterno would be in Spanier’s shoes today.

Legal experts have said that all four men held culpability for endangering the welfare of children and that Schultz, Curley, and Spanier should be legally charged with perjury, conspiracy, and child endangerment. These experts have also said that Paterno would have faced similar charges without a doubt. And it essentially all comes down to just a few quotes from the Exhibits section of the Freeh Report.

On May 13th, 1998, Tim Curley e-mailed Gary Schultz to ask for an update on the ongoing investigation into Jerry Sandusky involving an incident with a Second Mile child. “Anything new in this department,” Curley asked. “Coach is anxious to know where it stands.” It is assumed that “Coach” is in reference to Paterno, though he denied having any knowledge of the 1998 investigation during his grand jury testimony.

I’m not going to say that this is overwhelming evidence that Paterno is guilty of perjury, but I will go as far as to speculate that he would have met the burden of proof to be charged with perjury by Attorney General Linda Kelly and she would have left it up to a jury to decide if he were guilty or not.

Fast-forward three years to the 2001 incident that Graduate Assistant Mike McQueary witnessed and reported to Paterno. In a subsequent meeting between Spanier, Schultz, and Curley, it is agreed — according to Schultz’s notes — that they will “Tell chair of Board of Second Mile … Report to Dept. of Welfare. … Tell JS [Sandusky] to avoid bringing children alone into Lasch Bldg.”

But just two days later the plan is changed. On February 27th, 2001, Curley sent out an e-mail to Schultz and Spanier. He said that he had changed his mind about their agreement “after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe”.

This implies that Paterno was involved in the discussions about how to move forward with the situation after he reported what McQueary told him to his superiors. Of course, this is simply hearsay as it wasn’t Paterno who sent the e-mail, but again, it very well might have been enough to bring about criminal charges similar to Spanier’s.

In addition to these e-mails, it is clear that Paterno was aware of the directive that Jerry Sandusky no longer use the Lasch facilities. It is also clear that Paterno — along with Curley, Schultz, and Spanier — made no actual effort to enforce said directive. It has to be assumed that Paterno spent the most time in the Lasch facilities of the four men.

Their failure to both report the 2001 Sandusky incident to the authorities and to ensure that Sandusky has no further contact with minors within Penn State facilities certainly played into the felony Endangering Welfare of Children charges that were announced for Schultz, Curley, and Spanier yesterday. It is reasonable to think that Paterno would have been on that list as well.

The evidence presented against Graham Spanier in the Freeh Report is fairly underwhelming in terms of actual legal guilt. While its clear that he knew of the 1998 and 2001 incidents and played a part in the decision-making process involving how to proceed both times, its still questionable if any of the evidence uncovered by Louis Freeh and his team will be enough to stand up in court. The point is this — if there was enough to charge Graham Spanier with multiple felonies, there was almost undoubtedly enough to put Paterno on a docket sheet with him.

I am not in any way trying to make the argument that Joe Paterno was guilty of any crimes in relation to the handling of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. But in my mind, there is little doubt that if he were still alive, the late Joe Paterno would be awaiting a trial along with Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz, and Tim Curley for the alleged mishandling of the Sandusky scandal, which is just mind blowing. And I imagine Linda Kelly would like nothing more than to bring down Joe Paterno.

But I’m no legal expert. What do you think?

About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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