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Attorney General Appeals Decision To Overturn Spanier Conviction

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is asking a federal appellate court to reinstate former Penn State President Graham Spanier’s conviction on a child endangerment charge.

A notice filed in federal district court on Wednesday said that prosecutors are appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to overturn U.S. Magistrate Judge Karoline Mehalchick’s decision that vacated Spanier’s 2017 conviction.

Spanier was found guilty of a misdemeanor child endangerment count and not guilty on felony counts of child endangerment and conspiracy in March 2017, four and a half years after he was charged for his handling of a 2001 report about former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky with a boy in a campus locker room shower. After Pennsylvania Superior Court denied his appeal and the state Supreme Court declined to hear his case, he took the case to U.S. Middle District Court, where Mehalchick overturned the conviction on April 30, a day before he was to begin serving a two-month sentence in county jail.

Spanier was charged and convicted under a change to Pennsylvania’s child endangerment law in 2007 that added liability for those who did not directly supervise a child but employed or supervised someone who did. Mehalchick ruled that the conviction “was based on a criminal statute that did not go into effect until six years after the conduct in question, and is therefore in violation of Spanier’s federal constitutional rights.”

The decision gave the Attorney General’s Office 90 days to retry Spanier under the child endangerment law written in 1995, which was in place at the time of the 2001 report. Shapiro indicated at the time, however, that his office would instead appeal to reverse Mehalchick’s decision, saying the federal court overreached in overturning county and state court decisions.

“Spanier was made aware of children being abused – & chose to cover it up,” Shapiro wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “For that, my Office will stand up + enforce the #RuleOfLaw. No one is above it.”

Along with former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz, Spanier has maintained that he did not believe what former football assistant Mike McQueary described child abuse in his report about Sandusky to Curley and Schultz, only that it was inappropriate “horse play.”

After Mehalchick’s decision in April, Spanier’s attorneys fired back at Shapiro’s statementthat the former Penn State president knew about an covered up child sexual abuse.

“Contrary to Attorney General Shapiro’s statement, there is no evidence that Graham Spanier was personally advised that children were being sexually abused,” attorneys Bruce Merenstein and Sam Silver said in a statement. “We are stunned that Mr. Shapiro accuses Dr. Spanier of engaging in a ‘cover-up,’ when a jury expressly acquitted Dr. Spanier of having engaged in a conspiracy or a continuing course of conduct.”

Curley, Schultz and Spanier were charged for their decision not to take McQueary’s 2001 report to child welfare or law enforcement authorities. Instead, they decided to talk to Sandusky, bar him from bringing children to campus facilities and report it to Dr. Jack Raykovitz, the head of Sandusky’s Second Mile charity for at-risk youth where prosecutors say Sandusky found most of his victims. 

Spanier was forced out as Penn State’s president in November 2011, days after Sandusky, Curley and Schultz were first charged. He remains a tenured faculty member on administrative leave.

Curley and Schultz both pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment charges in 2017 and served brief jail sentences.

Sandusky was convicted in June 2012 on 45 counts related to child sexual abuse and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in state prison. He maintains his innocence and has continued to appeal his conviction.

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

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

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