HARRISBURG, Pa. — The new judge overseeing the long-delayed criminal proceedings against three former high-ranking Penn State administrators heard arguments Thursday about whether the remaining charges should be thrown out.
The hearing in Harrisburg before Judge John Boccabella could be the prelude to trial or the dismissal the charges in the case that began nearly five year ago. Boccabella didn’t indicate when he will rule.
All three defendants were in court: the school’s former president Graham Spanier, still a faculty member; former athletic director Tim Curley, now retired; and former vice president Gary Schultz, also retired.
They’re accused of not responding properly to a 2001 complaint by an assistant coach that Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing a boy in a team shower, and also are accused of putting children in danger.
Sandusky, a retired longtime defensive coach at Penn State, was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in 2012 and is now serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence. His case is on appeal.
Some of what’s currently at issue in the administrators’ criminal case:
CONTACT WITH CHILDREN
Defense lawyers argued that the allegations require the defendants to have been actively supervising the welfare of children, but their job duties did not include that responsibility.
They also noted that the language of state law in 2001, when the incidents occurred that led to the current charges, required people to report suspected abuse if they regularly came in contact with minor children, and had reasonable cause to think a child coming before them had been abused.
Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte said a recent court decision in a high-profile clergy abuse case means the issue is not direct supervision of children, but supervision of child welfare.
“The Penn State athletic facilities turned into the breeding ground for Jerry Sandusky’s child exploitation and child molestation,” Schulte told the judge.
He says laws designed to protect children have to be interpreted broadly, and that emails among the defendants are evidence they did more than stay silent — they decided not to act on the report about Sandusky in a team shower.
The attorney general’s office is seeking to add a new count, of conspiracy to commit endangering the welfare of children, against all three defendants.
In a set of motions filed Wednesday, prosecutors said they were making the request because of a Superior Court decision in June that threw out conspiracy charges and other offenses linked to them.
The court filings say endangering the welfare of children wasn’t thrown out, so its related conspiracy charge should be permitted.
There was no discussion of the motions during the court proceeding. Boccabella said he would deal with that issue at some later time.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The defendants believe the two-year statute of limitations has expired for crimes that allegedly occurred 15 years ago, but prosecutors counter with a claim the men engaged in continuing conduct so the time limits should not apply.
Curley lawyer Caroline Roberto told the judge that the case, given the passage of time, shows why the statutes of limitations are treated as sacrosanct in the criminal justice system.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Laura Ann Ditka said the defendants were aware of what they were doing by not reporting Sandusky
“They made a choice, and each and every day they engaged in conduct that furthered that choice,” Ditka said.
CHANGE OF VENUE
Spanier attorney Bruce Merenstein said previous charges involved a grand jury that met in Harrisburg, but Superior Court threw them out.
He suggested that now it would make more sense to hold the trial in Centre County, near the Penn State campus.
Boccabella said he is not sure there’s any better location for the trial than in Harrisburg.