There were “inexplicable delays” in prosecuting former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky on child abuse charges, the state’s attorney general said Monday, but an investigation found no evidence of political interference by Pennsylvania Gov.Tom Corbett while he was the state's top prosecutor.
The report, compiled by former federal prosecutor Geoffrey Moulton and released by the Pennsylvania attorney general's office, found that decisions made at the outset of the probe in 2009, and throughout 2010 and 2011, led to “inexplicable delays in bringing a serial child molester to justice.''
It noted that it took a full year, from March 2009 until March 2010, for the office to recommend charging Sandusky because basic investigative steps were not taken, including searching Sandusky's home.
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Then, in March 2010, veteran prosecutor Jonelle Eshbach circulated a draft presentment that recommended filing multiple charges against Sandusky, based on statements by an alleged victim, who later became known as “Victim 1” during Sandusky’s trial, and other corroborating evidence. That was more than a year and a half before he was arrested.
But her supervisors in the attorney general's office, including Corbett, overruled her, believing testimony of a lone victim would be "insufficient against a community icon like Sandusky'' and that a failed prosecution would make it difficult to proceed if other victims came forward, the report said.
They wanted investigators to find more victims, despite fears that a delay could allow Sandusky to create more victims, it said.
The report noted that the investigation was delayed as well by difficulties getting documents from The Second Mile, a charity for troubled youth that Sandusky ran and from which he recruited some victims, and from Penn State, which did not turn over a police report involving a 1998 child sex abuse incident. Investigators say finding that report led to the discovery of four more victims.
But it found no direct evidence that political directives drove any of the decisions made throughout the investigation.
Moulton, who prepared the report, said that a turning point in the case occurred in early November 2010, when investigators were told to talk to Mike McQueary, an assistant football coach at Penn State. Prior to that, he said, the investigation was “at a standstill.”
McQueary later told investigators and a grand jury that he had seen Sandusky engaged in inappropriate contact with a young boy in a shower room at the university, including putting his arms around the boy’s waist, and had heard a “slapping sound” when he first entered the room, He said he reported the incident to Joe Paterno, the late Penn State football coach, and to campus security officials.
At a press conference on Monday, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said that Sandusky allegedly did continue to prey on boys while the case against him was being investigated.
"Two individuals have indicated they were abused by Sandusky in the fall of 2009," Kane said.
"This investigation was never about politics. It was always about the people victimized by this man."
Former investigators and prosecutors involved in the Sandusky investigation reacted strongly to that accusation.
"To my knowledge and the investigative team's knowledge there were no credible victims that came forward claiming they were abused while Sandusky was being investigated," Randy Feathers, who oversaw the investigation as former regional director of the Office of Attorney General in State College, told NBC News. “I don't know what she's talking about."
Feathers added, "This is politics at play. Cops do police work, prosecutors prosecute."
Corbett, who was attorney general when the Sandusky case was opened, said in a statement that Moulton's investigation found that authorities had moved at an appropriate pace in bringing charges against Sandusky.
"This investigation was never about politics," it said. "It was always about the people victimized by this man."
Critics of Corbett, a Republican who was attorney general whens the Sandusky case was opened, have questioned whether he intentionally delayed the investigation to protect his gubernatorial campaign.
In 2011, after he was elected governor, Corbett authorized a $3 million state grant to The Second Mile, the charity that investigators say Sandusky used to groom victims.
Corbett has said he did so because he did not want to compromise the investigation.
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But Kane, the current attorney general, and a Democrat, told the editorial board of the Scranton Times-Tribune in 2012 that the delay was a result of "politics," and noted donations by the Penn State board of trustees, and Second Mile board members, to Corbett's gubernatorial campaign.
"You don't put a case like that before the grand jury," she said. "That was the leadership. Somebody made that decision that they're going to drag that out. Somebody made that decision that they're going to cloak it in secrecy. And I never would have done that. It has never taken me three years to take a pedophile off the streets."
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However, Jennifer Storm, victim advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, praised prosecutors for their doggedness.
“Successful sexual assault cases take time,” she told NBC News. “The patience of the prosecutors was admirable. Their efforts and methods resulted in the most successful sexual assault prosecution we’ve ever seen.”
She also noted the challenges of getting victims to agree to testify.
“It’s agonizing (for victims), and then all of the sudden someone is knocking on your door saying, ‘We know this,’ and it is frightening.”
The 70-year-old Sandusky, longtime Penn State defensive coach, was found guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in June 2012 and sentenced later that year to 30 to 60 years in prison. A subsequent bid for a retrial was denied.
He is serving his sentence at Pennsylvania’s SCI Greene “supermax” prison.
First published June 23 2014, 8:01 AM