Former Penn State president Graham Spanier was convicted Friday of one count of child endangerment over his handling of a child sex abuse complaint against retired assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Jurors in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, found Spanier not guilty of conspiracy and a second count of child endangerment.
According to multiple reports, first-time offenders such as Spanier face anywhere from probation to a maximum sentence of five years.
He is free on bail until sentencing later this spring. Prosecutors declined to say whether they would seek jail time, and Spanier’s lawyer said he would appeal.
Spanier, 68, showed no emotion when the verdict was read after 13 hours of deliberations.
The trial centered on how Spanier and two other university leaders handled a complaint by a graduate assistant who said he saw Sandusky sexually molesting a boy in a team shower in 2001. The school officials told Sandusky he could not bring children onto the campus anymore, but did not report the matter to police or child welfare authorities.
Sandusky was the football team’s defensive coordinator for more than 20 years and retired after the 1999 season. He was not arrested until 2011, after an anonymous tip led prosecutors to investigate the shower incident. He was convicted the next year of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving a decades-long prison sentence.
Four of the eight young men testifying at Sandusky’s trial said the abuse occurred after 2001.
“Evil in the form of Jerry Sandusky was allowed to run wild,” Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte told the jury.
The scandal sent shockwaves through the Penn State community. It led to the firing of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno — who died of cancer at 85 in early 2012 — and resulted in the school paying out more than $90 million to settle civil claims by more than 30 accusers. Paterno was never charged with a crime.
Former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment charges a week ago and testified against Spanier. But all three denied they were told the encounter in the shower was sexual in nature.
A key piece of evidence was an email exchange in which the three debated what to do after getting the report from graduate assistant Mike McQueary.
Spanier approved having Curley tell Sandusky to stop bringing children to athletic facilities and to inform The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youth founded by Sandusky.
The evidence also showed they had planned to inform the state Department of Public Welfare. Instead, Spanier approved putting that on hold, and the agency was never contacted. That failure to make a report formed the heart of the criminal accusations against him.
“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” Spanier told Curley and Schultz in 2001 in the email exchange. He called the plan “humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”
Penn State addressed Spanier’s conviction and the guilty pleas by Curley and Schultz in a statement Friday.
“The verdict, their words and pleas indicate a profound failure of leadership,” the university said. “And while we cannot undo the past, we have re-dedicated ourselves and our university to act always with the highest integrity, in affirming the shared values of our community.”
Spanier’s attorney, Sam Silver, said the case involved judgment calls by high-ranking university administrators in dealing with the complaint that Sandusky had been seen naked with the boy in a team locker room.
State prosecutor Laura Ditka said the three university leaders wanted to protect Penn State’s reputation at the expense of children.
“They took a gamble,” she told the jurors. “They weren’t playing with dice. They were playing with kids.”
A report commissioned by the university and conducted by former FBI Director Louis Freeh concluded that Paterno and the three others kept the allegations against Sandusky quiet, for fear of bad publicity.
Schultz and Curley testified they never told Spanier that the incident reported in the shower was sexual.
“Mr. Schultz made clear — he, Gary Schultz, told Graham Spanier that it was horseplay,” Silver said.
McQueary contradicted them, testifying he did say it was sexual.
McQueary said he told the athletic director and vice president that he saw Sandusky behind a prepubescent boy, in a dark shower at night, with his hips moving slightly.
“Do you think that’s horseplay?” Ditka asked jurors.
After the conviction, Ditka said the jurors “kept the focus successfully on children,” adding that Spanier “was convicted for all the children who came to Penn State after what Mike McQueary saw that night.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.