HARRISBURG, Pa. — Longtime Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said that the university mishandled its response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, a former assistant coach testified Monday during a hearing for three top school officials accused of covering up an allegation against the imprisoned ex-coach.
The star witness, Mike McQueary, appeared in a courtroom for the third time since Sandusky’s November 2011 arrest and told the court that top school officials knew that he had seen Sandusky molesting a boy in a locker room shower.
But the former Penn State assistant coach and quarterback also delivered some unexpected testimony: that the late Hall of Fame coach had told him over the years that “Old Main screwed up” – referring to university administrators – in how it responded to McQueary’s allegation against Sandusky.
Pressed by defense lawyers on his discussions of the subject, McQueary brought up a specific exchange at football practice in the hours before Paterno’s firing on Nov. 9, 2011 – four days after Sandusky’s arrest.
He recalled the head coach saying the school would come down hard on McQueary and try to make him a scapegoat. Paterno also advised McQueary not to trust the administration or then-university counsel Cynthia Baldwin, the former assistant testified.
Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, retired university vice president Gary Schultz and ex-athletic director Tim Curley are accused of failing to tell police about a sexual abuse allegation involving Sandusky and then trying to cover up what they knew. The men say they are innocent.
Paterno died in January 2012. He has never been charged, though former FBI Director Louis Freeh said in a university-sanctioned report that Paterno conspired with the three school officials to conceal accusations against Sandusky.
Paterno’s family has vehemently denied those allegations. The former coach was “respectful of the process … and wanted to know the truth from the beginning,” and the latest testimony raised more questions about the credibility of Freeh’s report, Paterno family spokesman Dan McGinn said.
“Joe Paterno believed the issue would be and should be handled properly,” McGinn said. “That’s been true since the beginning here.”
The judge must determine whether there’s enough evidence against the ex-officials to send the case to trial. They face charges including perjury, conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children.
The core of McQueary’s testimony is that he saw Sandusky and a boy engaged in a sex act in the locker room shower in 2001 and within days reported it to Paterno, Curley and Schultz.
Curley and Schultz “definitely knew it was a sexual act, a molestation act between Jerry Sandusky and a boy in the showers,” McQueary testified.
Curley and Schultz have said McQueary never reported that the encounter was sexual in nature, while Spanier has said Curley and Schultz never told him about any sort of sex abuse. They said they believed that Sandusky and the boy were engaged in nothing more than horseplay.
Sandusky is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence after being convicted last year of sexually abusing 10 boys. He maintains his innocence.
The hearing adjourned after about five hours of testimony and is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning in a Harrisburg courtroom with testimony from two more witnesses.
Much of the testimony Monday revolved around prosecutors trying to show that Penn State officials should have known to report Sandusky to police in 2001 after complaints in 1998 that he had been showering with boys in university locker rooms.
Lawyers for the defendants tried to show they never tried to hide evidence, never destroyed evidence or asked school employees to hide evidence.
McQueary last year sued the university, claiming defamation and misrepresentation and seeking millions of dollars in damages. His contract with the school wasn’t renewed after the 2011 season.
Associated Press writer Genaro C. Armas in State College contributed to this report.