Former Penn State University President, Graham Spanier, has been charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy, endangering the welfare of children and failure to report allegations of child abuse. Spanier’s charges continue the terrible saga that revolve around former Nittany Lion defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s convictions for sexual abuse of 10 boys over his tenure as a coach at Penn State. Former Athletic Director Tim Curley and ex-Vice President Gary Schultz face the same charges.
Spanier’s charges precipitate, at least in part, from his alleged efforts to sweep under the rug allegations by former Graduate Assistant Mike McQueary. McQueary claimed that he witnessed sexual abuse in a locker room shower by Sandusky on a child at Penn State for a football camp. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda L. Kelly is quoted as saying “(The three defendants) worked to actively conceal the truth with total disregard to the children who were victims in this case.”
With respect to the charges and what must be proven against these three amigos, for an obstruction charge to stick, the State must show they intentionally obstructed, impaired, or perverted the administration of justice. Conspiracy generally is any action said to aid or abet or planning to conduct a crime with another. As in Federal Court, conspiracy charges are generally add on or catch all charges that must be based off of another crime charged in order to gain a conviction. So, in order for a conspiracy charge to stick, the State must earn a conviction on one of the other charges. Pennsylvania Code 18.4304 makes it a crime if in an official capacity one prevents or interferes with the making of a report of suspected child abuse. In Spanier’s case, they no doubt will allege he got news of the suspected allegations and in an effort to save face for the University and its beloved football program, put the lid on this kettle in a hurry. Pennsylvania Code 21.502 will likely be used to charge Spanier with failure to report allegations of child abuse. Simply put, if a staff member of a public agency (school) witnesses what they reasonably believe to be abuse or sees what they believe is the result of abuse, they have to report the abuse to their superior. Once reported, the superior then has the burden to make a report to the proper legal authorities.
Charging these three is fine and well, but will the charges stick? It’s quite the drive from having probable cause to make an arrest to the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required to convict. I don’t have a dog in the fight and am not endorsing either side, however if I were the criminal defense lawyer representing Spanier there would be a couple of ways to potentially raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of a juror. With respect to the obstruction charge, lack of intent is where I would hang my hat. We don’t know all the facts of the goings on with Penn State and this issue and we may never. The State will have to show any event alleged to have obstructed the investigatory process was purposefully put forth by Spanier in an effort to obstruct. Intent is an element and it is necessary to convict. Negligence or Recklessness won’t cut it. With respect to a conspiracy charge, you defend on two levels; the first being that the other substantive charges are bogus, then you have to poke holes in the State’s allegation that these three clowns were working together. Even if Spanier is convicted on the other charges, they may not find that the three blind mice were in cahoots. As for the endangering the welfare of a child charge, Spanier is going to assert that he in no way prevented anyone from making a report. Knowing what I know about this case, Spanier can defend on this charge by asserting that McQueary could have reported what he saw at any time and more than once if necessary. If there is no evidence of Spanier actively preventing a report, he may be exonerated of that charge. As for the failure to report child abuse allegations, Spanier will likely defend that he did not think the allegations were reasonable based on what he was told and upon his own investigation if he claims to have conducted one. If he had a reasonable doubt that the accusations were factual, he may be able to mount a defense to this charge.
Ultimately, Spanier may be cooked as I’m betting they will have to zap in Marvin the Martian and his pals in order to find someone who truthfully hasn’t heard about this case and has a predetermined opinion. Couple that with the fact there may just be an overwhelming amount of evidence against him and he may be roomies really soon with Jerry. No doubt, Spanier’s criminal lawyer has his work cut out for him as the State Attorney won’t be backing down if for no other reason but out of politics. No matter how you slice it, what went on at Penn State is tragic.
Jason Mayberry is a Clearwater criminal attorney with offices in Clearwater and Tampa. If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, contact The Mayberry Law Firm today at 727-771-3847.