Former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)
He may be out of sight, but former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky remains very much in mind, surfacing in recorded interviews to once again insist he was innocent of molesting children.
Sandusky, 69, was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse, and is serving a 30-year to 60-year sentence in a Pennsylvania prison. Though he never took the stand during his celebrated trial, he publicly insisted – before the trial and after -- that he is innocent of all charges and is actively pursuing an appeal.
In interviews with documentary filmmaker John Ziegler, Sandusky also invoked the late head football coach Joe Paterno, who was forced out of his post during the scandal. Ziegler, who said he interviewed Sandusky as part of a film on what he called the railroading of Paterno, spoke Monday on NBC’s “Today” show.
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“This is all about Joe Paterno’s alleged culpability, which I don’t believe the facts back,” Ziegler said. “I believe he was railroaded.”
When Ziegler asked Sandusky if Paterno would have allowed him to keep coaching if he knew Sandusky was guilty of assaulting young boys, Sandusky replied: “If he absolutely thought I was, I’d say no. If he had a suspicion, I don’t know the answer to that.”
An investigation funded by the university found that Paterno and other top school officials had at least turned a blind eye to reports that Sandusky had abused children, sometimes at the Penn State football training facility. The head coach and others failed to inform outside authorities, the investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh found.
"I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade," Freeh said in a lengthy written statement, distributed after an investigation by former U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh, who also served as the governor of Pennsylvania from 1979 until 1987, questioned the findings. The Thornburgh probe was backed by the Paterno family seeking to salvage the coach’s legacy.
In a statement, emailed to reporters, Paterno family lawyer Wick Sollers criticized the release of the Sandusky recordings.
“The release of the audio recording of Jerry Sandusky is a sad and unfortunate development. Sandusky had the opportunity to speak, under oath, during his trial and he chose not to do so. Releasing a recording at this time, nearly a year after he was found guilty on 45 counts, is transparently self-serving and yet another insult to the victims and anyone who cares about the truth in this tragic story.
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“The Paterno family would prefer to remain silent on this matter, but they feel it is important to make it clear that they had no role in obtaining or releasing this recording. Moreover, they believe that any attempt to use this recording as a defense of Joe Paterno is misguided and inappropriate,” he said.
Sandusky was arrested in November 2011, and Paterno and the university president Graham Spanier were forced out within months, thrusting the Penn State campus into turmoil and eventually punishing the university’s premier football program. Sandusky was convicted last year.
Sandusky has acknowledged he showered with some of the children, but has insisted he did nothing untoward. Prosecutors insisted he groomed the children with attention and gifts as a way of eventually abusing them.
“Yeah, I hugged them,” Sandusky said, according to Ziegler. “Maybe I tested boundaries. Maybe I shouldn't have showered with them. Yeah, I tickled them. I looked at them as being probably younger than even some of them were. But I didn't do any of these horrible acts and abuse these young people. I didn't violate them. I didn't harm them.”
Sandusky also questioned the testimony of a former graduate assistant Mike McQueary who testified that he saw Sandusky carry out a sex abuse act on a boy in the school’s showers.
“I don't know that he's lying,” Sandusky replied. “I think that he would be uncertain about it and he may have said that I thought that I saw him. But he wouldn't have known that. How could he have known that?”
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