BELLEFONTE, Pa. – It’s not Penn State’s fault that a former assistant football coach who reported Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing a boy 15 years ago can’t find a new coaching job, a lawyer for the university said Monday.
Nancy Conrad said during opening statements in Mike McQueary’s defamation and whistleblower lawsuit that because he spent his entire career at Penn State, he hasn’t developed the network of contacts needed to find a new position.
She told the jury that McQueary was put on leave after Sandusky’s arrest out of safety concerns and says it’s national media and public opinion that have ruined him.
Those reports, she said, were “centred on Mr. McQueary’s decision to leave a young boy in the shower with Jerry Sandusky.”
McQueary, then a graduate assistant, has said he happened to see Sandusky abusing a boy in a team shower in 2001. He did not say anything to them or physically intervene, but he reported what he saw to university officials in the following days.
He became a key witness after prosecutors, nearly a decade later, got a tip to question him while investigating Sandusky on allegations of child molestation. McQueary testified against Sandusky in the 2012 trial that ended with a 45-count conviction.
McQueary’s lawsuit claims he was defamed by a statement, issued when Sandusky was arrested in 2011, by then- university president Graham Spanier, expressing his full support for the two officials who met with McQueary about the shower incident in 2001.
He also is suing over a claim that he was retaliated against by the university for the help he gave police and prosecutors.
Conrad showed jurors a statement the school issued in November 2011, saying McQueary was placed on paid suspension because of concerns about his safety.
Head coach Joe Paterno was fired after Sandusky was arrested. McQueary also spoke with him, days after seeing Sandusky and the boy in the shower. Paterno’s replacement did not keep McQueary on, though the university paid him even after his contract expired on June 30, 2012.
Paterno died a few months later of complications from lung cancer.
The third part of McQueary’s lawsuit is a claim that two other administrators, then-athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a vice-president with a supervisory role over campus police, falsely told him they viewed his story seriously and would act on it.
“Their intention,” McQueary lawyer Elliot Strokoff told jurors, “was to sweep this incident under the rug.”
The first witness was Jonelle Harter Eshbach, a former prosecutor who had a leading role in the Sandusky investigation that began in 2009 while she was working for the attorney general’s office.
Her testimony involved her email exchange with McQueary shortly after charges were filed against Sandusky. McQueary expressed dismay at a feeling he had not been properly supported during a prosecution news conference, said his story had not been accurately told in a grand jury report and attached evidence that he was being vilified in some quarters.
Eshbach said despite those emails, she was not concerned for his safety.
Also Monday, Conrad told jurors they will hear from Spanier, who along with Curley and Schultz is awaiting trial on charges of failing to properly report suspected child abuse and child endangerment.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
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