McQueary Praises Joe Paterno

Prosecution witness said the late Penn State coach gave him advice when the Sandusky scandal broke in November of 2011. McQueary is testifying against a trio of former PSU administrators.

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Penn State football coach Joe Paterno died in January of 2012. Nevertheless, his presence loomed large on the opening day of a high-profile preliminary hearing for three former university officials accused of covering up the actions of convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.

Recounting his final conversation with Paterno shortly after the Sandusky scandal exploded in November of 2011, prosecution witness Mike McQueary testified that the Hall of Fame coach called Sandusky a “sick guy” and warned McQueary “the university is going to come down hard on you, they are going to scapegoat you. … Don't trust Cynthia Baldwin. Don't trust Old Main.”

Baldwin is the former general counsel of Penn State. Old Main houses the university's administration.

“(Paterno) said, 'Old Main screwed it up,' ” McQueary testified Monday.

Gary Schultz, the former school vice president, and Tim Curley, the former athletic director, have already been bound over on charges of perjury and failure to report. This hearing at the Dauphn County Courthouse is for new charges of obstruction and child endangerment.

Graham Spanier, the former school president, faces charges of perjury, failure to report, obstruction and child endangerment. All three men also face conspiracy charges. And all three maintain their innocence on all charges.

The hearing is likely to wrap up Tuesday, after which District Judge William Wenner will decide whether to bind the trio over for trial on the latest charges.

McQueary's story is well known by now, as he testified at the previous hearing for Curley and Schultz as well as Sandusky's trial. As a graduate assistant in 2001, he walked in on Sandusky engaged in what he believed to be a sexual act with a boy in a shower in PSU's Lasch Football Building. Charges were not brought against Sandusky, himself a former PSU assistant, until 2011.

McQueary said he reported the incident to Paterno, who in turn reported it to Curley and Schultz. At issue is how candid he was with the three men. McQueary insists he told them all he witnessed a “sexual situation.” The Attorney General's office has deemed his story credible but the defense has argued that he was vague in his description of what he saw.

Penn State never did report the incident to the police, even though Sandusky had been investigated for possible child abuse in 1998. The Centre County district attorney at the time decided not to bring charges.

E-mail records introduced Monday indicate Spanier, Schultz and Curley had all been aware of the 1998 investigation when the 2001 incident happened. In grand jury testimony in 2011, however, Schultz denied knowledge of the 1998 investigation.

Former Penn State police chief Tom Harmon testified Monday that he was never made aware of the 2001 incident. If he had been, red flags would have been raised.

“I would have reacted if it even had been suggested there had been another incident,” Harmon said.

Later Tuesday, former Schultz assistant Joan Coble testified that her boss kept a confidential file on Sandusky, and that it was under lock and key in his office. Only Schultz and Coble had access to the cabinet where the file was kept. It was the only file in the office she was not allowed to see, per orders from her boss.

“It came out of the blue and Gary initiated it,” she said, adding his voice was “stern.” She also said it was the “one and only time” he was stern with her during her 14 years as his assistant.

Coble retired in 2007. She was replaced by Kimberly Belcher, who also followed her on the stand Monday. The court buzzed when it was announced Belcher had been granted immunity to testify against Schultz. But it turned out to be no big deal.

She said after Schultz was essentially fired in November of 2011, he asked her to bring a “transitional file” of some personal items to his house. She took it upon herself to also take the Sandusky file from the locked cabinet, and make a copy of it. She said she then gave the original to Schultz and kept the copy for herself.

“I wanted to be helpful,” she said.

However, she also admitted Schultz never asked her to take the Sandusky file. And when the attorney general's office subpoenaed her for the file, Schultz attorney Tom Farrell advised her to hand it over.

In the end, her testimony reflected most poorly on herself.

“I panicked,” she said. “I didn't act the right way. I didn't make the right choices.”

At the end of the first day of the hearing, nobody had said that the accused had asked them to cover up anything. That's important on another front, as the university-sponsored Freeh Report into the Sandusky scandal — which was the basis for unprecedented NCAA sanctions against the PSU football program — accused Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno of an orchestrated coverup.

“No one ever gave me instructions to not talk about it,” McQueary said.

That included Paterno.

"Coach Paterno, to be frank with you, was great about the whole thing," McQueary said.

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