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Jury awards $7.3 million to Penn State whistleblower in Sandusky scandal

BELLEFONTE, Pa. (Reuters) - A jury in Pennsylvania on Thursday awarded more than $7 million in damages to a former Penn State University assistant football coach who said the school retaliated by firing him after he implicated Jerry Sandusky as a molester of young boys.

Convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky (C), a former assistant football coach at Penn State University, leaves after his appeal hearing at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, U.S. on October 29, 2015. REUTERS/Pat Little/File Photo

The $7.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages Penn State was ordered to pay Michael McQueary was confirmed to Reuters by Kendra Miknis, chief administrator of the Centre County Court of Common Pleas in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

McQueary, claiming a loss of reputation and a $140,000-a-year coaching job in 2012 for his role as a whistleblower against Sandusky, had sought more than $8 million in damages.

McQueary, who coached wide receivers for legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno for eight seasons, told state investigators in 2011 that he had seen Sandusky, a retired but still-revered coach, in the shower having sex with a young boy 10 years earlier while McQueary was still a graduate student.

He also implicated Timothy Curley, the university athletic director, and Gary Schultz, a Penn State vice president who oversaw the campus police department, in a cover-up. Sandusky, now 72, was not arrested for 10 more years.

He was tried and convicted in 2012 of molesting 10 boys and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

Paterno was fired for his role in the Sandusky scandal and died months later. McQueary never worked anywhere of note after his dismissal, he said, because other schools viewed him as damaged goods. He had ostensibly lost his job because the new head coach, Bill O’Brien, did not want him.

McQueary also claimed in his lawsuit that former Penn State president Graham Spanier defamed him in a public statement in 2011 that publicly defended Curley and Schultz.

Elliot Strokoff, a lawyer for McQueary, told Reuters earlier Thursday that he would not be able to comment on the verdict because Judge Thomas Gavin has a gag order in place. Penn State attorney Nancy Conrad told media much the same. A university spokesman also declined to comment.

In an unusual arrangement, the jury ruled on defamation and misrepresentation claims made by McQueary against Penn State, but Gavin himself will rule within 30 days on the whistleblower part of the lawsuit.

McQueary “should not have been a scapegoat,” Strokoff said during closing arguments Thursday morning. “They said that he is the villain and that he is only in court because of his own failures.”

Conrad told jurors in closing that McQueary was not defamed by Spanier in 2011 and argued that his failure to find a job since 2012 was his own fault, not Penn State’s.

“He was not damaged by any actions of the university,” Conrad said. “If he was harmed, it was by national media and public opinion. He failed to find a position because of his own shortcomings.”

McQueary’s lawsuit took four years to come to trial.

Editing by Frank McGurty and Mary Milliken