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2 ex-officials set to testify against ex-Penn State leader

Last Updated Mar 20, 2017 at 9:40 pm EDT

Former Penn State president Graham Spanier walks to the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, March 20, 2017. Jury selection begins on Monday in Spanier's trial on charges that children were put at risk by how he responded to child sex abuse complaints about Jerry Sandusky more than 15 years ago. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Two former Penn State officials who struck plea deals with prosecutors are expected to testify against ex-university president Graham Spanier at a child endangerment trial linked to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Prosecutors picking jurors Monday in Spanier’s trial said former vice-president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley are on their witness list.

Spanier was forced out shortly after Sandusky, a longtime assistant football coach, was charged with child molestation in 2011. Spanier is charged with putting children at risk by mishandling child sex abuse complaints about Sandusky. He denies any wrongdoing.

The government witness list also names police investigators and university staff who knew about earlier complaints about Sandusky. That list includes Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach who reported seeing Sandusky shower with a boy in 2001.

Seven women and five men were picked for the jury Monday after potential jurors were questioned behind closed doors, presumably as they addressed questions about sexual abuse and other sensitive topics. Opening statements are expected late Tuesday morning after four alternates are selected.

Spanier declined to comment as he entered the Harrisburg courthouse for a trial that could last a week or more.

Spanier, 68, is accused of two counts of endangering the welfare of children and a single conspiracy charge, all felonies. Schultz and Curley pleaded guilty last week to a single misdemeanour count of child endangerment, and await sentencing.

The charges stem from their handling of the 2001 report that Sandusky had apparently molested a boy in a team shower. Prosecutors say their failure to report that to authorities allowed Sandusky to continue to abuse boys and also endangered others.

Sandusky was not arrested until 2011, after prosecutors got an anonymous tip about the shower incident. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving 30 to 60 years in prison.

Shortly after Sandusky’s arrest, Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno was fired over his handling of the matter. He had been the first school official to hear McQueary’s account of the shower incident.

One of the winningest coaches in college football history, Paterno died of lung cancer a few months later at the age of 85. He was never charged with a crime.

Spanier has said that Curley and Schultz characterized the incident in the shower as horseplay and not any form of child abuse.

A report commissioned by the university and conducted by a team led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh concluded that Paterno and the three others hushed up the allegations against Sandusky for fear of bad publicity.

McQueary testified on several occasions about how he went to Paterno a day after the shower encounter to discuss what he had seen. Paterno notified Curley and Schultz, and McQueary met with both of them about a week later. In his 2011 grand jury testimony, Paterno said he was told by McQueary the encounter involved “fondling” and was of “a sexual nature” but wasn’t quite sure what the act was.

The administrators told Sandusky he could not bring children onto campus anymore, but they had no plan to enforce that rule, prosecutors said.

A key piece of evidence is likely to be an email exchange the Freeh team obtained in which the three high-ranking officials debated how they should handle the 2001 shower incident. Spanier gave his approval to having Curley tell Sandusky to get professional help or face a report to the state’s child welfare agency.

“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 replied. He called the plan “humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”