Former Penn State leader ordered to jail over sex abuse failings

Appeal on health grounds fails as prosecutor demands message for ignoring serial offending football coach

May 27, 2021
Pennsylvania State University
Source: iStock

Graham Spanier, a former president of Pennsylvania State University, has been ordered to jail for his failure to stop a major sex abuse case, as a state judge refused to block his two-month sentence over health concerns.

Spanier, Penn State’s leader from 1995 to 2011, was convicted on a single count of endangering the welfare of a child, for not doing more to stop Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach understood to have sexually abused several young boys over a 15-year period.

As Penn State president, Spanier learned about allegations against Sandusky in the early years of the abuse, but did not report it to authorities, prosecutors said.

Now aged 72, Spanier asked the county judge who sentenced him, John Boccabella, for leniency based on his health conditions, which include a history of open-heart surgery and advanced prostate cancer.

But with those conditions appearing less dire and the Covid pandemic easing, Judge Boccabella ordered Spanier to report on 9 July to the Centre County Correctional Facility. There, he is expected to serve two months in low-security conditions before spending another two months in home confinement.

The judge’s decision with regard to such a high-profile offender sends an important signal, said Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro.

"No one is above the law, and my office will continue to pursue anyone who looks the other way in the face of child sexual abuse,” Mr Shapiro said. “There are consequences for failing to protect children in Pennsylvania.”

Spanier’s sentence, first issued in 2017, also includes two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Sandusky is serving a prison sentence of 30 to 60 years, after being convicted on 45 charges involving the sexual abuse of 10 young boys between 1994 to 2009.

Spanier learned of such problems early, but – despite himself being a childhood victim of physical abuse by his father – was part of a culture that refused to confront Penn State’s immensely popular football team, prosecutors found.

Sandusky formally retired as a football coach in 1999 after top university officials learned of allegations that he may have molested two young boys in the showers of the Penn State football facility. He nevertheless was granted a compensation package of $168,000 (£119,000), approved by Spanier, and ongoing access to the university’s sports facilities.

Later, in 2001, Spanier learned that Sandusky had been seen raping a 10-year-old boy in the showers, prosecutors said. Their investigation showed that Spanier decided against reporting Sandusky to police, at the urging of Penn State’s head football coach Joe Paterno.

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