Penn State was rocked by a child sex abuse scandal in 2011 when Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach for the Penn State Nittany Lions football team, was indicted on 52 counts of child molestation that occurred over a 15-year period between 1994 and 2009. After the scandal broke, reports emerged that Sandusky had picked and groomed his victims through his organization, The Second Mile, a charity formed to help disadvantaged youth. Sandusky was Penn State’s assistant football coach from 1969 to 1999.
On November 4, 2011, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly indicted Sandusky on a myriad of counts, including involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, as well as eight counts of corruption of minors, eight counts of endangering the welfare of a child and seven counts of indecent assault after a three-year investigation. The next month, more charges were added.
Previously, Sandusky was investigated for sexual abuse of a child in 1998 but no charges were ever filed.
Sandusky’s criminal trial began on June 11, 2012, at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. He pleaded not guilty and maintained his innocence. Of the 52 charges, 4 charges were initially dropped, leaving 48.
Sandusky’s wife Dottie Sandusky testified during the trial, defending her husband on several occasions and saying she never saw inappropriate behavior between her husband and the boys. When asked why she thought all the witnesses would lie, she said, “I don’t know why.” Sandusky did not testify in his trial.
But the jury didn’t believe Dottie–or her husband’s defense. On June 22, 2012, Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse. On October 9, 2012, Sandusky was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of 60 years in prison. On the day of sentencing, Sandusky was designated a sexually violent predator.
Meanwhile, three Penn State school officials (Penn State president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley) were charged with perjury, obstruction of justice, failure to report suspected child abuse, and related charges. Shortly after the scandal broke, Spanier resigned from his position. The Penn State Board of Trustees terminated the contracts of Curley and longtime head football coach, Joe Paterno.
Penn State’s Board of Trustees commissioned an independent investigation by former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Louis Freeh and his law firm. Freeh’s report stated that Spanier and Paterno, along with Curley and Schultz, had indeed known about allegations of child abuse as early as 1998, but did not disclose them. Freeh found a “total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”
There were severe repercussions for Penn State following the Freeh Report. The NCAA used the Freeh Report to impose sanctions on the Penn State football program. On July 23, 2012, the NCAA imposed a $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban, scholarship reductions, and vacated all victories from 1998 to 2011. These sanctions were the most severe ever imposed by the NCAA. NCAA President Mark Emmert stated that the sanctions were levied “not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people.” The Big Ten Conference gave the school an additional $13 million fine.
Former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, who was retained by the Paterno family to review the Freeh Report, launched an investigation that concluded that the report was a “rush to injustice” and could not be relied upon.
In January 2013, State senator Jake Corman and state treasurer Rob McCord launched a lawsuit against the NCAA to overturn the sanctions on Penn State, claiming that Freeh was actively collaborating with the NCAA and that due process wasn’t followed. In November 2014, state Sen. Jake Corman released emails showing contact between NCAA officials and Freeh’s investigators, which suggested that the Freeh findings were orchestrated by the NCAA. As part of the settlement, the NCAA reversed its decision and on January 16, 2015, and restored the 111 wins to Paterno’s record.
On January 22, 2016, some charges against Curley, Schultz, and Spanier were dropped due to the violation of their rights to legal representation. In March 2017, all three either pleaded guilty or were found guilty of misdemeanor charges of child endangerment. In June 2017, all three were sentenced to jail terms, fines, and probation. At the sentencing, Senior Judge John Boccabella said, “Why no one made a phone call to the police…is beyond me. Why Mr. Sandusky was allowed to continue to use the Penn State facilities is beyond me.”
Spanier was sentenced to 4 to 12 months of jail time with 4 months house arrest, followed by 2 years of probation and a $7,500 fine. Curley was sentenced to a 7 to 23-months, with 4 months of house arrest, followed by 2 years of probation and a $5,000 fine. Meanwhile, Schultz was sentenced to a 6 to 23-month with 4 months of it as house arrest, 2 years of probation and a $5,000 fine.