Skip to main content

Appeals Court Reinstates Graham Spanier’s Conviction in Penn State, Jerry Sandusky Child Abuse Scandal


University President Graham Spanier of the Penn State Nittany Lions watches warmups before the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium on October 27, 2007 in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Appealing to a “common sense of the community” and a “sense of decency,” the Third Circuit on Tuesday reinstated ex-Penn State president Graham Spanier’s misdemeanor child-endangerment conviction for failing to report serial allegations of child sexual abuse at his former university.

In 2017, a Pennsylvania jury convicted Spanier under a statute that the state’s legislature amended after the conduct at issue in the trial, but a three-judge panel ruled that both iterations of the law sought to punish the crime of his conviction.

“Such statutes ‘are written expansively by the legislature to cover a broad range of conduct in order to safeguard the welfare and security of our children,'” U.S. Circuit Judge D. Michael Fisher wrote in a unanimous ruling. “Therefore, ‘[t]he common sense of the community, as well as the sense of decency, propriety and the morality which most people entertain is sufficient to apply the statute to each particular case, and to individuate what particular conduct is rendered criminal by it.”

Attorney General Josh Shapiro applauded the ruling in a statement.

“No one is above the law, especially when it comes to the welfare of children,” Shapiro wrote. “Today’s ruling to reinstate the conviction of Graham Spanier proves just that. Spanier turned a blind eye to child abuse by not reporting his knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s assaults to law enforcement. Let it be known—if you hurt kids or cover up child abuse—my office will act and you will be held accountable.”

Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach at the center of the scandal, was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison eight years ago on 45 courts related to his sexually abusing 10 boys.

At Spanier’s trial, a prosecutor told a jury that he and his accused co-conspirators were responsible for the abused children’s welfare.

“When they decided in their little group that they weren’t going to call the outside agency, that they weren’t going to tell their own University police, but that they themselves, the three of them, were going to be the cabal that was going to keep him under control,” the prosecutor said. “They took that responsibility. They can’t hide from it now.”

Given the Commonwealth’s theory of the case, the Third Circuit called Spanier’s claim that a different jury instruction would have led to a more favorable outcome a stretch.

“There is not a reasonable likelihood that the jury convicted Spanier on the basis of the contested jury instruction language—that is, by finding that he was ‘a person that employs or supervises’ someone who is supervising the welfare of a child,” the court said.

U.S. Circuit Judges Michael Chagares and David Porter joined the decision.

Spanier’s attorney Bruce Merenstein of the firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis declined comment.

Read the Third Circuit’s ruling below:

(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."