An appeals court on Friday restored Jerry Sandusky's pension, ruling that the serial child abuser, a former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach, was not a state employee when he committed his crimes.
In a 40-page opinion, Commonwealth Court said the State Employees' Retirement System was wrong to revoke Sandusky's $4,900-a-month pension after his 2012 conviction.
"Because we find that nothing in the record in any way establishes that Mr. Sandusky was a PSU employee when the underlying criminal acts were committed, we reverse the board's decision," President Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote in the decision, which reinstated the pension with back interest.
The opinion was a rare courtroom victory for Sandusky, whose lawyer had argued that he had earned the benefit and said it helped support Sandusky's wife, Dottie.
"I spoke with her this morning, and obviously she's happy to hear that the pension has been restored," said the lawyer, Charles Benjamin. "And I'm sure that Jerry is also."
The ruling was also the latest turn in a stream of legal battles involving the Sandusky case, including the looming prosecution of three former Penn State administrators, including president Graham B. Spanier, accused of ignoring or covering up the sex assaults. It was not clear if the Commonwealth Court opinion could affect any of those cases.
A spokesman for the retirement board said it had 30 days to decide if it would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court. "We are currently reviewing [the decision] and we'll provide that analysis to our board," said Jay Pagni.
Sandusky, 71, longtime defensive assistant to Joe Paterno, was a Penn State employee for 30 years until he retired in 1999. He received a $168,000 lump-sum payment at that time, plus his pension. For about another decade, he maintained an office and ran sports camps on campus.
After his 2012 conviction for sexually assaulting 10 boys, the board revoked the pension, ruling that Sandusky had been a "de facto employee" of the university through 2008, a period in which jurors found he sexually abused boys he targeted through his charity.
Sandusky is now serving a sentence of three to six decades in prison. He has maintained his innocence and is waging an appeal.
Under state law, public employees can lose their pensions for a limited number of crimes, typically not violent crimes. Eligible crimes include offenses committed by school employees against students, plus theft, forgery, bribery, and perjury.
State legislators have introduced bills in the last several years to change the pension forfeiture law.
One recent attempt, sponsored by Rep. Scott Petri (R., Bucks), would have expanded the law to include all felony-level crimes on the list of convictions that trigger pension forfeiture. That measure was tabled by legislators in June.