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Joe Paterno family seeks to save his legacy from Sandusky scandal

July 16, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • This combination of two photos shows a detail of a mural by Michael Pilato in State College, Pa., depicting a halo over the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno on Jan. 23, left, and the halo removed by the artist on July 14.
This combination of two photos shows a detail of a mural by Michael Pilato… (Nabil K. Mark, Abby Drey…)

Joe Paterno’s family continued its fight Monday to save the reputation of one of college football’s most honored coaches, insisting that it will conduct its own investigation into the Penn State University child sex-abuse scandal tied to Jerry Sandusky. Meanwhile, reports that Sandusky may have abused some victims as early as the 1970s raised new questions about the already complicated legal liability issues in the scandal.

Citing "sources close to the Jerry Sandusky case," the Patriot-News reported that three men have told police that they were abused in the 1970s or 1980s by Sandusky, who was convicted in June on 45 criminal charges of sexually abusing boys. He is in jail awaiting sentencing.

The three men are the first to allege abuse before the 1990s, the period covered by Sandusky's trial.

PHOTOS: Who's who in the Sandusky case

It is unclear whether the allegations will lead to new criminal charges. Sandusky, 68, already faces hundreds of years in prison when he's sentenced in the fall. But the reports of more victims could be a factor in the forthcoming civil suits by Sandusky victims against the university.

Last week, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh issued his findings on the Sandusky case and how Penn State handled reports that Sandusky had sexually abused boys at the university’s football training facility. Freeh was scathing in his blame of four top officials, including head coach Joe Paterno, for failing to act after abuse reports involving Sandusky surfaced in 1998 and 2001.

In the report, commissioned by the university, Freeh also blamed the culture of catering to the powerful football program for the failure by school officials to contact outside authorities.

The president of Penn State was forced to step down last fall as the scandal broke, and two former administrators are now facing trial on criminal charges in connection with the early investigation. But much of the attention has focused on Hall of Fame coach Paterno, who was forced out of his job because of the Sandusky charges; he died of cancer this year.

The Freeh report argues that it was Paterno who persuaded other administrators to keep the scandal in-house despite legal requirements that abuse be reported to outside authorities. The report also cites emails to show that Paterno knew of the 1998 report but did not act to bar Sandusky from the campus.

The Paterno family has strongly rejected such suggestions.

“The announcement of the findings by the Freeh Group is yet another shocking turn of events in this crisis,” the Paterno family said in a statement e-mailed to reporters Monday. “We are dismayed by, and vehemently disagree with, some of the conclusions and assertions and the process by which they were developed. Mr. Freeh presented his opinions and interpretations as if they were absolute facts. We believe numerous issues in the report, and his commentary, bear further review.”

The family repeated its position that Paterno did not shield Sandusky nor do anything to impede any investigation into Paterno’s top aide.

DOCUMENT: Paterno, Penn State failed in Sandusky case

“The 1998 incident was fully and independently investigated by law enforcement officials. The Freeh report confirms this. It is also a matter of record that Joe Paterno promptly and fully reported the 2001 incident to his superiors. It can certainly be asserted that Joe Paterno could have done more. He acknowledged this himself last fall. But to claim that he knowingly, intentionally protected a pedophile is false,” the family stated.

The family said it is asking attorneys and experts to review the Freeh report and its findings. “We have also asked them to go beyond the report and identify additional information that should be analyzed,” the family said.

The family is acting amid reports that the university is considering removing a statue of Paterno from outside the school’s Beaver Stadium. Critics have complained that the statue is inappropriate given the findings of the Freeh report.

Beyond Paterno’s legacy, the question of liability remains a difficult issue for the university. Eight of Sandusky’s victims testified at the June trial, often in tearful and heartbreaking detail about how they were repeatedly molested by Sandusky. The coach had befriended them as disadvantaged boys -- clients at the charity he founded, the Second Mile.

But the number of Sandusky victims could be larger than just those involved in the criminal proceedings, according to lawyers who are preparing the lawsuits against the school. Some of the victims have come forward publicly, including Matthew Sandusky, one of Jerry Sandusky’s adopted sons, who told prosecutors that he too was molested.

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Join Michael on Google+. Email: michael.muskal@latimes.com

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