BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Former Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary, on the first day of his whistleblower civil trial against the university, said through his attorney Monday that he was forced to cash out his 401(k) after being unable to find a job due to being "ostracized" and "marginalized" by Penn State.
He is seeking more than $4 million in compensation for defamation, misrepresentation and lost wages as a result of the university wrongly refusing to renew his contract. Since his severance ran out in 2013, McQueary's attorney said, he has earned less than $10,000.
McQueary was placed on administrative leave in November 2011, shortly after it became public that he spotted retired football assistant Jerry Sandusky molesting a 10- to 12-year-old boy a decade prior and reported it to his superiors. He did not inform police.
"You don't put someone on administrative leave unless they've done something wrong," McQueary's attorney, Elliot Strokoff, said during opening arguments. "And this is the cloud that hangs over his head today."
The university countered the first of McQueary's allegations Monday by saying he was put on leave for his own safety. Former associate athletic director for football, Fran Ganter, testified that he advised McQueary to get out of town for the safety of his family.
The defense produced a number of lewd emails made at the time against McQueary, one of which threatened his life. "Enjoy hell," one read. "If you have children, we pray they're are violently raped," said another. "I want to kill you, you f---ing piece of s---," another read.
But the first witness of the trial, former state prosecutor Jonelle Harter Eshbach, testified she did not take those threats seriously.
"I really was not in fear for his safety," Harter Eshbach said, adding the university never contacted her office. "His emotional safety? Maybe. Not his physical safety."
Both Penn State and McQueary were widely believed to be headed to a settlement prior to trial Monday, as no civil case involving a party with direct ties to Sandusky had gone to trial. The university has paid $92.3 million to 32 men who said they were sexually abused by Sandusky.
An anonymous email in November 2010 first led investigators to approach McQueary. In 2001, he later testified, he saw Sandusky engaging in a sexual act with a young boy. He said nothing to Sandusky or the boy, instead calling his father who told him to come home. A day later, he contacted head coach Joe Paterno before reaching out to his superiors.
Penn State attorney Nancy Conrad said any stain on McQueary's reputation is a result of him not doing more at that time.
"McQueary has been under fire for not stopping the alleged rape and going to Joe Paterno instead of the police. Right there, it could've stopped," Conrad told the jury, which consisted of nine women and three men. "But he walked away. McQueary failed to act like a responsible human being."
McQueary remained silent during the first day of the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks. Even during the afternoon break, McQueary stood against the jurors' bench and fiddled with his cell phone while his attorney scribbled notes and handled papers.
He and his lawyers contend that several Penn State administrators, such as former athletic director Tim Curley, wrongly led him to believe they considered his 2001 allegations a serious matter. Because they didn't, the lawsuit claims, McQueary "has been labeled and branded as being part of a cover-up."
McQueary has also taken exception to a 2011 news release issued by then-university president Graham Spanier, which expressed "unconditional support" toward Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz, despite both being criminally charged for not reporting the abuse claim. McQueary's attorneys believe Spanier's comments suggested McQueary was lying to the grand jury.
Still, McQueary played an important role in the conviction of Sandusky. His testimony "kicked into high gear" the investigation, according to Harter Eshbach. Sandusky was convicted in June 2012 on 45 of 48 counts, including four that involved the incident McQueary witnessed.
Sandusky is currently serving a 30- to 60-year sentence in Greene State Prison, where he has been largely segregated from the prison's general population out of concerns for his safety.
McQueary was a Penn State graduate assistant in the early 2000s, before serving as the wide receivers coach from 2004 to 2011. He did not interview for his coaching position following the 2011 season, and first-year coach Bill O'Brien opted to hire former Buffalo Bills receivers coach Stan Hixon as his replacement.
O'Brien initially wanted to clean house and hire all new coaches, Ganter testified, but players requested that defensive assistants Larry Johnson Sr. and Ron Vanderlinden remain on staff. Players made no such overtures regarding McQueary.
"It's not the action of the university," Conrad said, explaining why McQueary hasn't yet found a job. "McQueary failed to develop a network."
The trial resumes Tuesday morning at the Centre County Courthouse Annex Building.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.