BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) - Former Penn State President Graham Spanier testified Thursday he issued a statement the day two of his top lieutenants were charged in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, calling the allegations against them groundless, because he had developed deep trust in them.
Spanier took the witness stand in former assistant coach Mike McQueary's lawsuit against the university. McQueary's lawsuit alleges the former president's statement made it appear McQueary was a liar.
Spanier said he came to trust vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tom Curley after working closely with them for many years.
"This was an unbelievable injustice, that these two guys, who are like Boy Scouts, would be charged with a crime," Spanier said. "And that's what was in my head as I was giving this opinion."
Spanier began drafting the statement about a week earlier. He said that's when the university's then-general counsel got a tip through the attorney general's office that Sandusky, Curley and Schultz would be charged.
At issue was how Curley and Schultz responded after McQueary described to them in 2001 that he saw Sandusky sexually abuse a boy in a team shower.
Spanier told jurors he directed the lawyer to share a draft with Curley's lawyer as a courtesy before it was published.
"Two of the people holding among the most important leadership positions in the university were going to be charged," Spanier said. "And with my belief that after working daily with these individuals for about 16 years, and knowing their honesty, their integrity, believing that they never withheld information from me, and recollecting rather clearly that meeting from 2001 ... and what they described to me at the time, that it merited my unconditional support."
Spanier was forced out by the board of trustees a few days later, and the next year he also was charged over his handling of the Sandusky matter. A state appeals court this year threw out several of the charges against all three administrators, but they remain accused of failure to properly report suspected abuse and endangering the welfare of children. They await trial in Harrisburg.
Spanier, who remains a Penn State faculty member, testified he had no knowledge of a 1998 police investigation into Sandusky showering with another boy on campus and had limited recollection of responding with Curley and Schultz to the 2001 incident McQueary said he witnessed.
When the first set of charges was announced in November 2011, Spanier said he took the draft statement that day to about 30 of the university's senior executives. He said he told them that if they were falsely accused of a crime, he would issue the same type of statement on their behalf.
"Everybody in the room worked with them for years and had exactly the same sentiment I had," Spanier testified.
He said he wasn't thinking about McQueary when drafting the statement and didn't realize McQueary was a key figure in the investigation and an unnamed assistant described in the grand jury presentment used to help charge Sandusky.
"I was not casting aspersions on anybody else, because when that statement was drafted, I hadn't read the grand jury presentment," Spanier testified. "My entire knowledge base was from a short conversation a decade earlier, and my focus was on these two individuals who I knew and worked with."
McQueary's defamation, whistleblower and misrepresentation lawsuit is seeking more than $4 million in lost wages. The trial is expected to continue into next week.
Sandusky was convicted of dozens of counts of child sexual abuse in 2012 and is serving a lengthy prison sentence but maintains he's innocent. A hearing in his appeal is scheduled for next month.