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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett Explains Why His Jerry Sandusky Investigation Took So Long

Illustration for article titled Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett Explains Why His Jerry Sandusky Investigation Took So Long

A lot of people are wondering why it took the better part of two years for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett to investigate Jerry Sandusky while Corbett was attorney general. Today, Corbett appeared at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon to offer some answers. A grand jury was convened around the summer of 2009 to seek an indictment against Sandusky,* but Corbett said the attorney general's office didn't have enough evidence to file charges any sooner than it did. Corbett said he wanted to methodically build a case against Sandusky and establish a pattern of behavior, rather than run the risk of endangering his prosecution with a quick arrest.


Corbett also offered a favorable opinion on Kenneth Frazier and Louis Freeh, the Penn State-connected investigators whom Penn State has hired to look into what went wrong at the school. The entire Q&A is interesting. I've copied it below from Capitolwire but can't link to the original because, alas, Capitolwire is subscription-only. Here you go:

Q: Without speaking specifically about the investigation, why couldn't you as attorney general, governor and a Penn State board of trustee, have done more sooner, if only to take away [Jerry] Sandusky's office and gym privileges [on the university campus]?

A: It would have revealed what we were doing in the grand jury investigation, basically.

I gave thought to it on a constant basis. We … are very … careful about how we reveal it.

I did repeat a number of times to people, generally, the one newspaper story that was out there in March, "Wow, this is an interesting story. This is an interesting story, is anyone looking at this?"

But I believe that I could not. You have to understand that there were conversations that I had with my staff – one person knew on my entire staff, actually two: the state police commissioner knew it and you all know Kevin Harley, Kevin knew it.

But we had to be very careful not tip where this investigation was going. Next question.

Q: If it is necessary, will your administration support extra money for Penn State's internal investigation, and do you worry that the investigation will obstruct or get in the way of the attorney general's investigation?

A: Ah, let me talk about the Penn State investigation first.

I'm very pleased with Ken Frazier leading that. Ken – I've only known him a short time – but I'm very impressed with his leadership. I'm very impressed that he has put together some people, including Ron Tomalis, on behalf of the administration and also as [state] secretary of education, on that team, and the selection of Louis Freeh is I think a very good one. I'm sure most of you by now know the former director of the FBI and former federal judge Louis Freeh was appointed.

And I think one of the reasons that someone like Mr. Freeh was appointed is because he understands the role of a grand jury investigation, the role of the prosecutors and will work well with the attorney general's office and Attorney General Linda Kelly so that [obstruction of the attorney general's investigation] does not happen.

When it comes to the financial side of it, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Q: Can any investigation of Penn State be truly credible if it is not truly independent? Why should the board of trustees be allowed to investigate itself?

A: Well I think the board of trustees has to investigate on their own what was done and what wasn't done, and this is an investigation done according to them.

I'm not sure who would have the authority to do an independent investigation.

I'm sure that the General Assembly will ask the questions. I'm sure the attorney general's investigation continues to look into what happened.

But I think it's the responsibility of the board of trustees, from their perspective, to determine what they were told, when they were told, why they were told, who told them, who knew what – you all can ask the questions – but it's their responsibility, the fiduciary responsibility to, as the board of directors for want of a better description, deal with Penn State. They're the ones who have to authorize the investigation. Next question.

Q: Given the nature of the charges against Sandusky, why not simply arrest Sandusky without a grand jury and then proceed to a grand jury to investigate a cover-up?

A: [Long sigh] The grand jury, as you all know, takes quite a while. It doesn't necessarily have to take quite a while, but in cases like this, it does.

Once you arrest somebody, particularly if they would have arrested Mr. Sandusky in the very beginning when the case was first brought to us with one witness, you know you have times that have to be met [under] criminal rules of procedure.

The one thing you do not want to do when you arrest someone, as a prosecutor, is go on one case, at the very beginning, until you have documented everything.

And in a case, I believe, with pedophiles, who do it more than once – I've never heard of one doing it once – you don't want to go with just one case. You want to show the continued course of action.

If you were to lose that one case – let's say they went with the 1998 case – if you were to lose that one case – actually it would have been the most recent case as the first one – if you were to lose that one case, and then continue to investigate the other cases, it would be much more difficult to bring the charges because it would be seen by you – by the public – as vindictive because they [prosecutors] lost the first case.

You want to build – and I see friends from law enforcement [here today] – you want to build the best possible case that you can.

And if you recall, Mr. Sandusky was already retired from Penn State, by the time – I believe by the time, and I don't have all the dates in front of me – by the time the case got to the attorney general's office, he wasn't even involved any more with Second Mile – I think he had already gone or was very close thereafter.

You have professional prosecutors, not just the elected attorney general – myself – or the appointed the Attorney General Linda Kelly, but professional prosecutors who are working with law enforcement, working with the State Police and the attorney general's office, making tactical decisions that you all are questioning.

You have a right to question them. But these are the people that have experience in these fields and they made decisions that I agree with – I made a decision with them when I was there and Linda Kelly made the decisions thereafter – this will all play out in the courts.

I remember many of you in this room criticized the length in time it took to do the bonus investigation that went into many different areas – I will again look at the results, not the length of time.

*UPDATE: Only two states do not use grand juries to indict. Those states are Connecticut and Pennsylvania, which retain investigating grand juries—a curious legal permutation, perhaps, but one that supports the notion that the attorney general's office needed to build a case after the grand jury was convened, not before. Pennsylvania grand juries issue "presentments," which are recommendations for prosecutors to file charges.

The presentment in the Sandusky case was the extensive document that described, in graphic detail, the alleged crimes committed by Sandusky. Such presentments have been criticized for being unfair to defendants, given all that graphic detail.

Here's more on how grand juries in Pennsylvania work from the attorney general's website:

If, after hearing and reviewing evidence presented to it, a grand jury determines there is sufficient evidence of criminal activity, the grand jury issues a written document called a "presentment." The presentment summarizes the evidence the grand jury has heard and recommends that prosecutors file specific charges against specific persons. Under Pennsylvania law, a prosecutor is not required to follow the grand jury's recommendation that criminal charges be filed. In most cases, the prosecutor does follow the grand jury's recommendations and often uses the grand jury presentment as the basis of the "affidavit of probable cause" needed to file criminal charges.