BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A Penn State lawyer on Monday turned claims in a civil lawsuit against a former coach who offered key testimony against Jerry Sandusky, saying it’s not the school’s fault he can’t find a coaching position but rather a response to the man’s own failure to stop the child sexual abuse he witnessed.
Attorney Nancy Conrad cited Mike McQueary’s own words from an email as the defamation and whistleblower lawsuit began, saying the national media and public ruined him — not Penn State.
“He should not be permitted to exploit the tragedy that was caused by Jerry Sandusky for his own personal financial gain,” she said. McQueary is seeking at least $4 million in lost wages and other damages.
Conrad said comments that flooded in to the university after Sandusky was first charged in 2011 with child molestation were deeply critical of McQueary for not acting to stop an alleged child rape.
“Yet he walked away,” Conrad told jurors, saying any harm to McQueary is “a result of his own decisions and actions.”
McQueary has said he happened to go to a team shower late on a Friday night in February 2001 and saw Sandusky engaging in what he concluded was a sexual act with a boy about 10 to 12 years old. He slammed his locker shut and saw they had separated, but did not say anything to Sandusky, a retired assistant coach, nor did he report the matter to police.
Instead, he met about the incident the next day with then-head coach Joe Paterno, and more than a week later with two high-ranking school officials.
Nothing happened until nearly a decade later, when police investigating other complaints about Sandusky got a tip to contact McQueary. His testimony helped convict Sandusky of being a sexually violent predator, and Sandusky is now serving a lengthy prison sentence while appealing a 45-count conviction.
McQueary says he was put on leave, and then his expired contract was not renewed as retaliation for his help in the criminal case. He also says he was defamed by a statement issued by then-university president Graham Spanier when Sandusky was arrested, and that he was misled by two of Spanier’s lieutenants into thinking they took his report seriously and would respond appropriately.
“Their intention,” McQueary lawyer Elliot Strokoff told jurors, “was to sweep this incident under the rug.”
Other coaches who might hire him are concluding, based on how Penn State treated McQueary, that he must have done something wrong, Strokoff said.
“This is a cloud that hangs over his head today,” he said.
Witness Jonelle Harter Eshbach, a former prosecutor who had a leading role in the Sandusky investigation, described email exchanges shortly after charges were filed and McQueary’s role in the probe became public. McQueary told her he felt he had not been properly supported during a prosecution news conference, his story had not been accurately told in a grand jury report and that he felt he was being vilified.
Former university lawyer Wendell Courtney recounted telling one of the administrators, Gary Schultz, to report the shower incident matter to child welfare authorities.
“It was my assessment that the appropriate course of conduct would be to report it and let the Department of Public Welfare investigate it in a manner it deemed appropriate,” Courtney said.
He said Schultz described the incident as horseplay and did not mention any sexual component, as McQueary claims he related to Schultz, then the school’s vice president with supervisory authority over police, and Tim Curley, then the athletic director.
Lisa Powers told jurors that Spanier knew at least a week ahead of time that Sandusky, Curley and Schultz were going to be charged in November 2011. He called her into a meeting with then-general counsel Cynthia Baldwin and Steve Garbin, then the trustees’ chairman, to work on a news release — a statement the lawsuit claims made it appear McQueary had lied.
Powers said Spanier seemed to have formed a strong opinion.
“He had already indicated that he knew that the charges were groundless,” Powers testified. “He felt it was an attack on his leadership team and nothing more.”