Joe Paterno's family begins reputation repair work

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2011 file photo, former Penn State Coach Joe Paterno and his wife, Sue Paterno, stand on their porch to thank supporters gathered outside their home in State College, Pa. A new era is dawning at Penn State, with a new football coach and a new look to the uniforms. But no Paterno on the sideline in a season opener for the first time since 1965. Penn State plays Ohio on Saturday. File,AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. A new report commissioned by Joe Paterno's family challenges the conclusion by former FBI director Louis Freeh that the late Penn State coach conspired to hide child sex abuse allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

The Paterno family's critique, released Sunday, argues that the findings of the Freeh report published last July were unsupported by the facts.

Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, one of the experts assembled by the family's lawyer to review Freeh's report last year to Penn State, said the document was fundamentally flawed and incomplete.

Freeh's report reached "inaccurate and unfounded findings related to Mr. Paterno and its numerous process-oriented deficiencies was a rush to injustice and calls into question" the investigation's credibility, Thornburgh was quoted as saying.

Last week, Sue Paterno started a campaign to repair husband Joe's battered image with a letter sent Friday to former Penn State players.

She wrote: "When the Freeh report was released last July, I was as shocked as anyone by the findings and by Mr. Freeh's extraordinary attack on Joe's character and integrity. I did not recognize the man Mr. Freeh described. I am here to tell you as definitively and forcefully as I know how that Mr. Freeh could not have been more wrong in his assessment of Joe."

Sue Paterno said neither Freeh's report, nor the NCAA's actions, should "close the book" on the scandal.

In a statement released Sunday through a spokesman, Freeh defended his work.

"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," he said.

Paterno's family released what it billed as an exhaustive response to Freeh's work, based on independent analyses, on the website paterno.com.

"We conclude that the observations as to Joe Paterno in the Freeh report are unfounded, and have done a disservice not only to Joe Paterno and the university community," the family's report said, "but also to the victims of Jerry Sandusky and the critical mission of educating the public on the dangers of child sexual victimization."

Freeh's findings also implicated former administrators including university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz. Less than two weeks after the Freeh report was released in July, the NCAA acted with uncharacteristic speed in levying massive sanctions against the football program for the scandal.

"Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University — Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse" from authorities, trustees and the university community, Freeh wrote in releasing the report.

The former administrators have vehemently denied the allegations. So, too, has Paterno's family, though it reserved more extensive comment until its own report was complete.

The counter-offensive began in earnest this weekend. The family's findings said that Paterno:

  • Never asked or told anyone not to investigate an allegation against Sandusky 12 years ago, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2001.
  • Never asked or told former administrators not to report the 2001 allegation.
  • And never asked or told anyone not to discuss or hide information reported by graduate assistant Mike McQueary about the 2001 allegation.
  • "Paterno reported the information to his superior(s) pursuant to his understanding of university protocol and relied upon them to investigate and report as appropriate," the family's analysis said.

    Freeh, in his report, said his team conducted 430 interviews and analyzed over 3.5 million emails and documents. The former federal judge said evidence showed Paterno was involved in an "active agreement to conceal" and his report cited email exchanges, which referenced Paterno, between administrators about allegations against Sandusky in 1998 and 2001.

    Sandusky, 69, was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison in October after being convicted last summer of 45 criminal counts. Prosecutors said assaults occurred off and on campus, including the football building.

    His arrest in November 2011 triggered the turmoil that led to Paterno's firing days later. Under pressure, Spanier left as president the same day. Curley was placed on administrative leave, while Schultz retired.

    Spanier, Curley and Schultz are awaiting trial on obstruction and conspiracy, among other charges. They have maintained their innocence.

    Critics have said that Freeh's team didn't speak with key figures including Curley, Schultz and Paterno, who died in January 2012 at age 85. The authors of the emails referenced in Freeh's report, which included Curley and Schultz, were not interviewed by Freeh, the family's analysis said.

    Spanier spoke to Freeh six days before the report was released July 12.

    "They missed so many key people. They didn't interview most of the key players, with the exception of President Spanier, who at the last minute we brought in and interviewed at a time when frankly the report ... was pretty well all prepared," Thornburgh said on the video.

    Freeh said he respected the family's right to conduct a campaign to "shape the legacy of Joe Paterno," but called the critique self-serving. Paterno's attorney was contacted for an interview the coach, he said, and Paterno spoke with a reporter and biographer before his death but not Freeh's team.

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