HARRISBURG, Pa. – It was lunch hour here Monday, the first day of the pretrial hearing of three former Penn State administrators. They are charged with endangering the welfare of children, conspiracy and a host of other crimes for failing to do enough (or anything) to stop Jerry Sandusky's reign of terror back when they had the chance.
Graham Spanier, Penn State's former president and the highest profile of the defendants, was riding down an elevator from the fifth floor of the Dauphin County Courthouse. He scanned his Blackberry and immediately seized on a freshly live Associated Press story that covered that morning's testimony from ex-assistant football coach Mike McQueary. Spanier turned to his attorney Elizabeth Ainslie.
"Look what the media already has," Spanier said. He began to read the AP account, which centered on McQueary recalling one of the final conversations he had with the late Joe Paterno.
"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," Spanier read.
Spanier then stopped and shook his head over and over, conveying disgust. Here was JoePa, blaming Spanier and company, straight from the grave no less.
The defense had attempted to keep out any statements from Paterno, via McQueary, claiming it would be hearsay. This is just a pretrial hearing – a procedure for the judge to decide whether there is enough for the case to be carried over to an actual trial. That is an almost certainty, hearsay or no hearsay. No one is determining guilt or innocence this week, so the damage is minimal.
Still, this was just what they feared. Paterno, who still holds credibility with many, getting a broad-based shot (minus context or cross-examination) into the perfect sound byte.
"Messed up," Ainslie said.
Maybe she was misquoting McQueary's actual money statement from Paterno. "Old Main screwed it up," McQueary said that Paterno told him – the coach using the term for the school's administrative building to convey his disgust with the administration itself.
Or, maybe she was describing this entire situation in general, three previously elite, successful and law-abiding college administrators all packed into one side of a courtroom trying to fight for their freedom and whatever shred of their reputation remains. You could hardly fit everyone in the traditional defense area, what with three defendants (Spanier plus former vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley) and each man's small army of attorneys, paralegals, assistants and oversized briefcases they all seem to carry.
They needed three whole rows of defense tables. Courtroom No. 1 here is pretty good-sized, but this was pushing it.
The attorney general's office claims this group engaged in a "conspiracy of silence," although there wasn't a lot of evidence presented Monday that speaks to that level of heated rhetoric. The three might not have been very forthcoming and might be guilty of everything, but if they wanted silence, they never seem to have told anyone to actually be quiet about what they knew.
What is undeniable is something went terribly wrong in State College in the winter of 2001, when McQueary's report of walking into a football locker room late on a Friday and finding Sandusky and a boy in the shower engaged in "a sexual situation, a molestation incident" went nowhere.
McQueary told Paterno the next morning. Paterno told Schultz and Curley the day after that. The two men waited, however, seven to 10 days to bother meeting with McQueary (a 15-minute session that, McQueary recalled, featured not a single question). Nobody tried to find the boy. And nobody told the police to start a real investigation.
This despite emails and written notes showing that all three defendants were aware that Sandusky narrowly escaped prosecution for hugging a boy while showering with him in 1998. Sandusky was eventually convicted of that incident, part of 45 counts of sexual assault that in 2012 sent him to a supermax prison in the southwest corner of this state, where he will likely die.
Penn State's chief of police back then, Tom Harmon, was on the stand Monday lamenting that Schultz, his former boss, never mentioned there was "another report of Jerry Sandusky in a shower with a boy."
"I would have said we're going to call the district attorney's office and pursue it as an investigation," Harmon testified. "Because in light of the 1998 incident, that would have been sufficient suspicion that there had been possible child abuse because Sandusky clearly knew that was inappropriate behavior."
Instead, Sandusky continued befriending and molesting area children. The question of why – and how – such a failure occurred is the heart of the trial for these administrators. Was it really, as Louis Freeh – hired by Penn State to investigate the scandal – concluded a desire to avoid bad publicity against Joe Paterno's football program?
Or was it something more benign, although, perhaps no less criminal, such as general incompetence, miscommunication, gross cowardice or simply the cover-yourself mentality of large institutions, especially in higher education.
The pretrial hearing, at the very least, begins the next phase of discovery, with the cool, calm and controlled environment of court replacing the over-the-top emotions of the public square.
For the defendants though, the stakes are high: These are old men facing prison sentences where they'd be known as Jerry Sandusky's enablers. And the challenge remains considerable.
There are still all the emails, the notes, the meetings and the lack of action. There was still, as Gary Schultz's long-time administrative assistant Joan Coble described, a shady special file containing info on Sandusky's 1998 investigation that Schultz placed in a locked drawer of a cabinet in his office under strict orders for it to never be opened.
Schultz "mentioned to me he had a new folder for Jerry Sandusky," Coble testified. "He told me not to look in that file. It came out of the blue. His tone was very stern … I just remember thinking, 'I wonder what Jerry has done?' "
No one would see that file, or know what Jerry had done, until it was far, far too late.
Then there is the matter of the three-pronged defense in a scandal where everyone, including those who aren't even charged with any crimes, try to find the best possible spin on this terrible tale.
The Paterno family has spent huge sums trying to clear their father of any wrongdoing. McQueary had been beaten to a pulp and is always cognizant of how each word can be interpreted, although he at least made the point Monday of saying, "I didn't handle this, the quote-unquote perfect way. Are there things I should have done? Absolutely, I'll point the finger at myself before anyone else."
Meanwhile, Harmon wanted everyone to know he was told nothing from these other guys or else Sandusky would've been busted. Other witnesses kept clearly noting what information and meetings and manila folders they weren't privy to.
Right now, all three defendants are claiming they are all innocent. But it might be smarter for one of them to start claiming this guy or that guy (but not me) messed up. It's either that or attempt to prove that no one did anything wrong.
Maybe everyone sticks together when this eventually reaches trial (probably by 2014), but the early fishers were apparent just on the first day of the pretrial.
"They collectively say they are not responsible, then they try distinguish themselves," Tom Kline, a Philadelphia-based lawyer for Sandusky's Victim No. 5 said after watching each man's defense strategy on Monday. "Spanier was apparently too busy to be hooked up in this. And Curley was too low on the totem pole and peripherally involved. But that leaves Schultz as the man in the middle."
If Paterno was alive, he might be the fourth defendant here. Instead it was he, of all people, who delivered the quote that will carry the news cycle.
Standing on the Penn State practice field for the final time in November 2011, just hours before he would be fired, Paterno pulled McQueary aside and offered his take on the scandal. It proved pretty darn accurate.
"He said, 'The university is going to come down hard on you,'" said McQueary, who, indeed, was eventually removed from his position and now has a wrongful termination suit against Penn State. "[He said], 'Don't worry about me. They are going to try to scapegoat you. …Don't trust Old Main…
"He said, 'Old Main screwed it up.' "
Well, somebody, or somebodies, did. Let the search for justice/finger-pointing continue here Tuesday.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Jerry Sandusky sentenced to 30-60 years in prison
• Timeline of Jerry Sandusky case
• Freeh Report assigns blame to Joe Paterno, Penn State officials