Third of five parts.

Responding to an anonymous tip in 2010, police contacted Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary for a statement regarding something he had reportedly seen a decade before. This contact eventually spawned the report, leaked to the press a year later, of McQueary having seen Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in a campus shower.

The news galvanized the country with shock and outrage, and the Sandusky scandal became an irreversible train with a nearly inevitable outcome.

This was tragic, particularly given that the factuality of the version leaked to the press did not match McQueary’s initial statements to the police, nor to the grand jury. This became clear to researchers who were able to find and publish counter-narratives after the trial was over.

Science writer Mark Pendergrast provides a thorough review of the Sandusky case in his 2017 work “The Most Hated Man in America.” His research provides the bulk of information in this five-day column series.

Pendergrast cites an uncovered email string between McQueary and assistant Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach, shortly after the 2011 press release, in which McQueary protests that he never testified to have seen rape. Eshbach replied, “I know that a lot of this stuff is incorrect and it is hard not to respond. But you can’t.”

McQueary testified that he called his father immediately after the episode, and that, together with mandated reporter and family friend Dr. Jonathan Dranov, they unpacked what had happened. After thorough questioning, Dranov concluded that there were no grounds to assume sexual abuse. Dranov testified as much to authorities and was never indicted for failure to report. In 2012, NCIS agent John Snedden investigated the incident in the context of reviewing former Penn State President Graham Spanier’s security clearance for international work.

In his 100-page report, Snedden concluded that McQueary’s testimony was not reliable enough to presume molestation, and that there was nothing to cover up. Spanier’s clearance was renewed. His conviction was later thrown out by a federal judge.

According to reports, what appears to have occurred is this: McQueary entered the locker room on a quiet Friday night during a school break. He heard loud slapping sounds from the adjacent shower room, which he immediately interpreted to be sexual. He glanced for one or two seconds into a mirror that gave a partial view of the shower and saw there a calm lad at least 10 years old.

He then saw an arm reach out and pull the lad back.

Shortly after, he saw Sandusky walk out of the shower.

McQueary’s description morphed several times between 2010 and November 2011, but never reached the claim of witnessing rape. Sandusky eventually was acquitted of the rape charge. In any case, the possibility of rape between a 6-foot-2, 56-year-old adult and a 10-year-old, both standing on the floor and with a calm expression on the lad’s face, is truly hard to configure.

In late 2011, a 23-year-old Marine and Second Mile alumnus presented himself to the police and wrote in the local press, self-identifying as the boy in the shower.

He could describe the setting with accuracy, except for the 2002 date and the exact configuration of the locker room to the shower. His account corroborated Sandusky’s independent description of the episode from prison. Both said that no abuse had occurred, and that during the shower time they engaged in horseplay that included slap-boxing. Shortly before the 2012 trial, the Marine “flipped,” asserting that he had experienced abuse on other unspecified occasions, and he became useless as a witness for either side.

Further doubt is raised by conflicting claims about the date of the episode. McQueary said definitively to police and to the grand jury that it happened on March 1, 2002.

Between the indictment and the 2012 trial, someone realized that McQueary’s conversation with Paterno, and later with administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, were clearly documented in February 2001. The date in trial testimony was quietly changed to Feb. 9, 2001.

But further research by Pendergrast has since shown that the campus was far from quiet on Feb. 9, as McQueary had testified, and that the football he had mentioned watching before his trip to the locker room would not have been on TV. The most plausible date was Dec. 29, 2000. The quiet campus and TV schedule all fit that date; and the notes of Dranov, Curley and Schultz about time frames line up with that date as well.

In any case, this shows that McQueary’s memory was not so sharp about the episode on the whole as one would hope.

It also means, incidentally, that McQueary may not have visited Paterno for another five weeks, which would blunt his sense of urgency about it after debriefing with Dranov.

In November 2010, though, the account police sought and got from McQueary seemed to be a major break in the case, especially for trial-weary investigators who had assumed guilt from the start, and spent nearly two years with only failed testimony from a single victim.

Soon afterward, police were provided with a published photo of Sandusky with a small group of Second Mile boys, and the hunt for victims resumed afresh.

Every identified victim in the grand jury report, except for Fisher, was solicited from that photo.

Joseph R. Stains is pastor of Mount Hope United Methodist Church and a member of The Tribune-Democrat’s Reader Advisory Committee.

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