Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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The Pulse: Mystery tip that broke Sandusky case

Jonelle Eshbach (right), senior deputy attorney general, was frustrated in her attempts to charge Jerry Sandusky. Then came an e-mail tip from "A Concerned Citizen."
Jonelle Eshbach (right), senior deputy attorney general, was frustrated in her attempts to charge Jerry Sandusky. Then came an e-mail tip from "A Concerned Citizen."
Jonelle Eshbach (right), senior deputy attorney general, was frustrated in her attempts to charge Jerry Sandusky. Then came an e-mail tip from "A Concerned Citizen." Gallery: The Pulse: Mystery tip that broke Sandusky case

Nearly two years after a 15-year-old boy first reported being abused by Jerry Sandusky, the attorney general's investigation was moribund. Very little progress had been made since the office took over the probe. The victim's mother was understandably frustrated, and the prosecutor assigned to the case considered it "stalled."

It could have easily ended there, and Sandusky might be a free man today - if not for a concerned citizen whose name does not appear on any of the 339 pages of independent investigator H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr.'s recently released report to the attorney general.

The report of Victim No. 1, a ninth grader known as "A.F.," was made by his mother to school administrators in November 2008. County officials eventually referred it to the Attorney General's Office in March 2009. At the time, the report notes, the office was "heavily invested in . . . Bonusgate," a political-corruption prosecution. Also that month, then-Attorney General Tom Corbett announced that he was exploring a run for governor.

Given that prosecutors deemed the first victim credible, Sandusky could have been arrested immediately. Instead, they decided to use the secret grand jury process to search for more victims and bolster the case.

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  • In June 2009, A.F. appeared before the grand jury and testified that he had engaged in oral sex with Sandusky. He returned to the grand jury in November 2009, a year after his initial report, because prosecutors wanted to gauge his ability to describe the crime on his own rather than in response to a prosecutor's leading questions. He was able to do so.

    As 2009 ended, Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach believed she had sufficient evidence to have Sandusky's arrested, but her supervisors disagreed. At least one grand juror wanted to know when there would be progress, according to Moulton's report, asking Eshbach, "When do you see this moving forward?"

    In March 2010 - 16 months after the first report of abuse - Eshbach delivered a draft presentment recommending charges against Sandusky to Glenn Parno, who had temporarily assumed the responsibilities of Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina, who was involved in an extended trial.

    Months passed without a reply or significant progress in the case. In May 2010, the report says, Eshbach wrote to an investigator: "Despite asking, begging, pleading, I have heard nothing."

    Still more time elapsed. In July 2010, Eshbach wrote to several colleagues: "The grand jury asked me again, as they have for the last four months, why we don't have that particular presentment for them. They are very anxious to approve it. Likewise, I continue to get calls and mail from the victim's mother and therapist. Can someone please tell me what the holdup is?" It had been 20 months since the first report that a 15-year-old boy had been abused by Jerry Sandusky.

    The following month, A.F.'s mother wrote in an e-mail to Eshbach: "It's been a long time on this case, and another school year is coming up. Why is this not been dealt with already? This is causing my family a lot of stress and anxiety. Please let me know what's going on." Eshbach forwarded that e-mail to colleagues with another request: "Does anyone want to answer my questions about why we are stalled since winter?"

    Fina replied: "We are still working on the case, looking for better corroboration of our single victim. We need to do everything possible to find other victims."

    And so, on the verge of the fall of 2010, which would mark two years since A.F.'s credible report of abuse, Sandusky was a free man, and the investigation was at a standstill.

    Then came the lucky break that may have saved the case.

    On Nov. 3, 2010, the day after Corbett was elected governor, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller received an e-mail. "Ms. Miller," it said:

    "I am contacting you regarding the Jerry Sandusky investigation. If you have not yet done so, you need to contact and interview Penn State football assistant coach Mike McQueary. He may have witnessed something involving Jerry Sandusky and a child that would be pertinent to the investigation."

    It was signed only "A Concerned Citizen."

    The only information about this citizen supplied in the report comes in a footnote on page 62:

    "According to the author of the e-mail, he had recently heard rumors that Sandusky was being investigated for child abuse and assumed that any such investigation would involve the Centre County District Attorney's Office. In addition, he had recently heard from a member of Michael McQueary's family that McQueary had firsthand information about Sandusky that would be relevant to such an investigation."

    The tip broke the case wide open. A week later, investigators knocked on McQueary's door, and he agreed to cooperate. New resources were committed to the case. Subpoenas were issued. Evidence was assembled. And Sandusky was finally charged on Nov. 4, 2011 - 32 months after the investigation had been referred to the Attorney General's Office.

    Who was the mystery man who seems to have rescued the prosecution? A March ESPN magazine story identified him as Christopher Houser. The magazine reported that during a chat on a Penn State football fan website, McQueary's older brother had told Houser that Sandusky, who had recently retired from his charity, would probably never coach again. And he revealed that his younger brother had caught Sandusky with a boy in a locker room shower.

    Unlike so many who had reason to suspect Sandusky but didn't act, Houser did - and thereby resurrected the prosecution of a serial pedophile.

    And that deserves more than an anonymous footnote.

     


    Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on Sirius XM's POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting "Smerconish" at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.

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