State College, Pa- On the Morning of Wednesday, May, 1 at 8:00am, Ex-Penn State President Graham Spanier was required to arrive at the Centre County Prison, where he was to serve a minimum of two months behind bars.
But, late Tuesday, less than a day before Spanier’s first day in jail, a Federal Judge threw out Spanier’s conviction of endangering the welfare of a child. This means Spanier won’t be going to jail Wednesday and instead could be retried under a different law, per a judges ruling.
After multiple appeals in the PA state court system, many believed that Graham Spanier could no longer avoid serving jail time.
But, after exhausting all appeals in the PA State Court hierarchy, Spanier submitted a petition to Federal Court… a petition which Judge Karoline Mehalchick, in Scranton, PA, granted Spanier, agreeing with his assertion that he was improperly charged.
The decision boiled down to two versions of a law (both versions will be addressed later in this article) directly related to Spanier’s charge of endangering the welfare of children.
In 2012 Spanier was charged under a 2007 version of a child endangerment law, while the actions related to his charges occured in 2001. That’s when Spanier was responding to complaints that Jerry Sandusky was showering with a boy on PSU’s campus.
In Spanier’s trial, the State Attorney General’s office said that endangering the welfare of a child is of the utmost social importance… therefore a more expanded version of the law (2007 version…addressed later) should be applied.
WTAJ’s legal analyst Attorney Tony DeBoef further elaborated on why the prosecution said the 2007 version of the law should be utilized.
“They were arguing that the current law at the time the incident was discovered should be the law that was used,” DeBoef said.
However, Judge Mehalchick ruled that applying the 2007 version of the law, instead of the 1995 version of the law, was a violation of the Constitution’s Due Process Clause. Judge Mehalchick also ruled that instructing a jury to use this 2007 law (which the prosecution did) was “not a harmless error, and further violated Spanier’s right to due process.”
1995 law vs. 2007 law
The key difference between the two statutes on endangering the welfare of a child:
-The 1995 statute says you must be a parent or a guardian supervising children in order to endanger the welfare of a child
-The 2007 statute says you must be a parent or a guardian supervising children or a person that employs or supervises someone who endangers a child, to be charged with endangering the welfare of a child.
The prosecution felt as though the 2007 definition of the statute applied to Spanier.
Future outlook for case?
“Under the 1995 statute, it’s almost impossible to charge him with the crime,” DeBoef said.
This means Spanier may not face any future conviction.
“It’s going to be very difficult for the State Attorney General’s Office… they can try to appeal this decision from the federal judge to a higher judge in the federal system,” DeBoef said.
The State Attorney General’s Office said they’re currently reviewing Judge Mehalchick’s ruling. Currenlty, there’s no word on whether they will appeal this decision.
Judge Mehalchick directed the State Attorney General to retry Spanier applying the 1995 version of the child endangerment law. This trial must take place within 90 days of the April, 30 ruling.
WTAJ reached out to Spanier, his lawyer Bruce Merenstein, and Penn State University for reaction to Tuesday’s ruling. All three declined to comment.
There is a possibility that the PA Attorney General will not decide to retry Spanier in this case… meaning this would be the end of this specific child endangerment charge for Spanier.