Penn State Officials Face Trial In Sex Abuse Case

Accused of trying to cover up Penn State's child sex abuse scandal, two former administrators will face a trial on perjury charges. A judge made that decision at a preliminary hearing on Friday, as NPR's Jeff Brady reports. Warning: This segment contains language that may not be suitable for all audiences.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Two former Penn State administrators accused of trying to cover-up that school's child sex abuse scandal will face a trial on perjury charges. A judge made that decision at a preliminary hearing yesterday. One witness was the main focus of that proceeding. Assistant football coach Mike McQueary offered testimony with graphic detail about what he saw in a locker room more than nine years ago. A word of caution: the following report contains language that may not be suitable for all audiences. Here's NPR's Jeff Brady.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Mike McQueary is easy to spot on the sidelines of Penn State football games - he's the one with bright red hair. Back in March of 2002 McQueary was a graduate assistant, dropping off some shoes at a locker room late in the evening. In a court room Friday, where recording was not allowed, McQueary testified that he encountered former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in the shower with a boy about 10 or 12 years old. In McQueary's words, it appeared the two were having sex. But he says he couldn't be certain. McQueary says he slammed his locker door and went to the shower. By that time, he says, Sandusky and the boy had separated and that Sandusky had a blank look on his face. In the hours and days that followed, he reported what he saw to his father, a family friend, then head coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and university Vice President Gary Schultz, who oversaw the campus police. But Curley and Schultz say McQueary told them Sandusky and the boy were just horsing around in a way that seemed inappropriate, though not sexual. Prosecutors believe Curley and Schultz are lying. The purpose of Friday's hearing was to determine if there's enough evidence to take the case to trial. The judge said there is.

CAROLINE ROBERTO: I think nothing happened today that we from the defense team didn't expect.

BRADY: Caroline Roberto is a lawyer for Curley. She told reporters immediately after the hearing that although the judge found prosecutors were able to meet their burden of proof...

ROBERTO: Which is very, very low at this hearing, they will never be able to reach their burden of proof at a trial where it is the highest standard known in American law, beyond a reasonable doubt.

BRADY: Widener University Law School Professor Wes Oliver listened to the hearing and also predicts a trial will not go well for prosecutors.

WES OLIVER: It is my absolute expectation that there would be a not-guilty verdict.

BRADY: This is a case of McQueary's word against Curley and Schultz's. But Professor Oliver thinks the differences between the men are more about alternative characterizations of the same incident. Oliver says this was even clearer when Mike McQueary's father, John, testified.

OLIVER: John McQueary, to me, sounded like a defense witness. He characterized his son as having described inappropriate and potentially sexual activity in that shower. That is almost a carbon copy of the description that Schultz and Curley gave to the grand jury.

BRADY: If a perjury charge doesn't stand, prosecutors are left with the other charge -failure to report an allegation of child sex abuse. And under Pennsylvania law, Oliver says the statute of limitations on that already has passed. Pennsylvania's Senior Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo says what's most important in this case is that people who should have helped the alleged victims didn't.

MARC COSTANZO: I think it's a sad, sad, sad day when you think about all these victims, and you just got your first taste of it today. And you saw the inaction by a number of very supposedly important, responsible adults.

BRADY: Curley and Schultz are scheduled for a formal arraignment on January 19th. Meanwhile, Jerry Sandusky waived his right to a preliminary hearing, meaning his case already is headed to trial. And prosecutors say their investigation into child sex abuse allegations against him is continuing. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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