Mike McQueary, the former Penn State graduate assistant at the heart of the scandal that shook his school’s storied football program, took the witness stand on Tuesday in the child sex-abuse trial of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
McQueary described a 2001 incident in the locker room showers at Penn State University in which he said he saw Sandusky commit a sex act on a naked boy. The boy, identified in court documents as Victim 2, was against a wall with a naked Sandusky behind the child, who appeared to be 10 to 12 years old at the time, McQueary testified.
McQueary, who was 28 at the time of the incident, then slammed his locker door loudly “in an attempt to say ‘someone’s here, break it up,”’ he testified, according to media reports from the Bellefonte, Pa., courtroom. He then called his father, who is also expected to testify for the prosecution.
McQueary is an important prosecution witness because he’s an adult testifying to an alleged sex act by Sandusky. Two of the witnesses so far have been alleged victims recounting what they said happened to them when they were children years ago. In cross-examination, the defense has questioned their memory and their motives.
Sandusky was charged in November with 52 criminal counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. Some of the abuse is alleged to have taken place at Sandusky’s home, and some is alleged to have occurred at the university, where the former coach took boys on field trips.
McQueary is also the most important witness in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal at Penn State. The fallout from the scandal has shaken the school’s nationally ranked athletic program and led to the dismissal of iconic head football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier. Paterno died in January of cancer.
Two other former college administrators face criminal charges, including perjury, for how they dealt with reports of Sandusky’s abuse. McQueary testified at their preliminary hearing, the only other time he has recounted the events publicly.
The biggest difference in his current recitation was that he said the incident took place in 2001; originally he said it was 2002. The change of date is expected to figure in the defense’s cross-examination and its effort to undermine McQueary’s credibility.
On Tuesday, defense attorney Karl Rominger asked about the change of dates and pressed McQueary about the different angles from which he said he’d seen Sandusky.
During the direct testimony phase, McQueary said he entered the locker room at the school’s Lasch Football Building. He has said he was going to put some newly purchased sneakers in his locker and get some recruiting tapes.
It was then he said he heard a noise. “Very much skin-on-skin smacking sound,” McQueary testified. “I immediately became alert and was kind of embarrassed that I was walking in on something.”
McQueary said he looked in a mirror and saw Sandusky standing behind the boy whose “hands [were] up on the wall. The glance would have taken only one or two seconds. I immediately turned back to my locker to make sure I saw what I saw.”
He said he then slammed the locker door and went up to his office.
“It was more than my brain could handle,” he said. “I was making decisions on the fly. I picked up the phone and called my father to get advice from the person I trusted most in my life, because I just saw something ridiculous.”
McQueary said he went to Paterno and testified that he made it very clear to the coach what he saw.
“I told him and I want to make sure I’m clear. I made sure he knew it was sexual and wrong. There was no doubt,” McQueary testified, according to reports from the courthouse.
When asked about Paterno’s response, McQueary started to respond but the defense objected. Judge John Cleland upheld the objection, keeping the focus clearly on Sandusky, rather than the aftermath at the university.
More than half of the jurors have admitted some ties to the university, about 10 miles from the courtroom, but insisted that it would not have an impact on their objectivity.