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Penn State professor murdered 3 in 1965

University recently learned he was paroled by Texas governor

Saturday, July 26, 2003

By Bill Schackner, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Paul Krueger has taught workforce development at Penn State University for the last four years and during that time has amassed a spotless classroom record on the state's largest public campus.

But university officials recently learned something else about the assistant professor in the college of education.

Nearly 40 years ago in Texas, when he was still a teenager, Krueger was convicted of murdering three fishermen in Corpus Christi and was ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.

He was paroled in 1979 by then-Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe. In the years since, Krueger earned a pair of doctoral degrees and worked in the corporate world and in academia, according to Penn State's Web site.

It's unclear if Krueger volunteered any information about his conviction during the job selection process, and odds are the search committee did not ask.

At Penn State, like many colleges across the nation, faculty searches typically focus on teaching and research credentials but do not involve criminal background checks.

Penn State said yesterday that it had begun an inquiry into the matter.

"We're still in shock and trying to get some details on this," Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon said. "We've never experienced anything like this."

Penn State officials said they have been unable to speak with Krueger, though they expect him to return to the main campus to teach this fall. But late yesterday, an official with National University in La Jolla, Calif., said Krueger had just signed a contract there to teach as an associate professor of business.

"We were not aware of his criminal past," National spokesman Hoyt Smith said.

Asked if the school planned to rethink the offer, he declined comment.

Krueger does not have a listed phone number in State College, and in an e-mail response to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last night, he attached a copy of his curriculum vitae but offered no comment. An employee in the office where he works at University Park said she was told to refer all calls to university relations.

Mahon said Penn State was already talking with other schools in the Big Ten about adopting a uniform method of background checks. News of Krueger's past may spur that discussion.

Still, a more fundamental question may be harder to address: Even if the crime is as serious as murder, should a job candidate be precluded from teaching if he has served his sentence and has been released?

"Are we in a position where we should be second-guessing the governor of a state?" Mahon asked. "According to the law in Texas, Dr. Krueger is a free man. According to his work record, he has spent decades working at other universities and for major corporations."

That said, the topic apparently did not come up when another faculty opening at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., brought Krueger to campus. He served as director of the Small Business Institute there and was an assistant professor of business from September 1994 to July 1999.

"I was thunderstruck. I had no idea," said business administration department chairwoman Anne Oppegard, who was involved in the search. "I have yet to encounter anyone who said 'I knew about that.'

"He was very motivated. He was a very hard worker," she said. "He had a good rapport with students."

Texas Department of Justice spokesman Larry Todd confirmed Krueger's murder conviction. It stemmed from an April 12, 1965, incident on the Intracoastal Waterway south of Corpus Christi.

A news account published by the Austin American-Statesman said Krueger, 17, the son of a wealthy California industrialist and scientist, was carrying firearms and camping gear when he ran away from a boarding school with a 16-year-old classmate. They wanted to become soldiers of fortune and planned to go to Venezuela but encountered the fishermen while in Texas.

The newspaper said Krueger fired 40 bullets from a pair of rifles into the three fishermen. The motive for the attack was unclear.

Krueger was convicted in 1966 of three counts of murder with malice aforethought, according to Texas authorities. He served nearly 13 years in prison.

The paper said those who knew Krueger and advocated his parole "described his rehabilitation in glowing terms." The state's then Corrections Department director, W.J. Estelle, was quoted by the newspaper as saying, "I felt that any further incarceration [was] going to put him on a downhill slide."

Penn State said Krueger is director of the Institute for Research in Training and Development and is part of the workforce education and development program faculty.

Officials with the university and the Pennsylvania Parole Board said yesterday that authorities in Texas should have provided notice prior to Krueger's arrival in this state but waited until Feb. 20 of this year to do so -- some four years after the fact.

Penn State' human resources department was informed about a month ago as part of a Pennsylvania Parole Board field investigation that is required to be completed when past offenders move into the state. Mahon said the word apparently was not relayed elsewhere within the Penn State administration until this week.

University officials in the state contacted yesterday said state Act 33 requires campuses to do criminal background checks of job applicants that may come in contact with children in day-care centers or students in grades K-12. But it apparently does not cover faculty in general who teach college-age adults, they said.

A lawyer who has followed higher education issues for several decades said employers, for safety and liability reasons, have generally become more prone to doing checks of all kinds including criminal histories.

But higher education has not kept pace.

"The background checks for part-time and full-time faculty members are porous," said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel with the American Council on Education, a group in Washington, D.C., representing colleges and universities. "They're not compatible with good 21st-century human resources practices."

Still, Oppegard said that in academia, word travels quickly about transgressions even among colleagues in different parts of the nation. It's not as if schools are hiring total strangers.

"It seems to be one of those one-in-a million occurrences," she said of cases like Krueger's.

Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.

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