A court decision reversing the landmark conviction of a Roman Catholic priest could have big implications for the upcoming trial of three former Penn State administrators, according to legal experts and lawyers involved in the case.
The state Superior Court ruled that a 2007 child endangerment law should not have been used retroactively to charge Monsignor William Lynn for alleged actions years before.
The Penn State officials accused of covering up a molestation scandal are charged under the same statute for alleged conduct in 2001.
“The Lynn decision is conclusive in requiring dismissal of the (endangerment) charges in our case,” said Thomas J. Farrell, attorney for former university vice president Gary Schultz. “I trust that the prosecution will have the good grace to recognize the import of Lynn and withdraw the charge.”
The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office issued a statement last Friday to PennLive.com saying the Lynn decision would be reviewed. But it also noted that some charges against the former administrators involve alleged conduct after 2007.
Authorities contend that Schultz, former university president Graham Spanier and ex-athletic director Tim Curley failed to report a sexual abuse claim against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2001, exposing other boys to pedophilia between then and 2008.
Lynn was the first U.S. church official ever charged with the handling of clergy-abuse complaints. He was convicted of child endangerment last year after prosecutors contended he shuffled predator priests among Philadelphia parishes between 1992 and 2004.
But the Superior Court ruled last Thursday that the state’s child-endangerment law at the time applied only to parents and caregivers, not supervisors like Lynn. The statute was broadened to include supervisors in 2007.
Spanier’s attorney, Elizabeth Ainslie, called the ruling “very helpful.”
Duquesne University School of Law professor Wes Oliver predicted Friday that prosecutors would likely fight to retain all charges in the university case, in part because the Superior Court opinion could be reversed. The Philadelphia district attorney is appealing to the state Supreme Court.
Spanier, Schulz and Curley also face counts of perjury, obstruction, conspiracy and failure to properly report suspected child abuse. No trial date has been set.