Joe Paterno’s Family Challenges Penn State Investigation

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A Paterno statue that was removed from Penn's campus.Photo: Rob Carr/2011 Getty Images

A report commissioned by the family of Joe Paterno claims that the late football coach was a victim of "a rush to injustice" by former FBI head Louis Freeh, whose investigation of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal led to Paterno's firing in 2011. The family had three experts — former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh, Paterno family attorney Wick Sollers, and former FBI profiler and child-abuse prosecutor Jim Clemente — look into Freeh's conclusions, which allege that Paterno conspired to cover up former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's molestation and rape of kids involved in a football program at the university. After a six-month analysis of nearly 3.5 million documents and 430 interviews, the trio has released an exhaustive challenge to the validity of Freeh's findings:

"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."

Overall, they argued that Freeh's work was incomplete and overly speculative. Thornburgh took issue with Freeh's "failure to conduct interviews with most of the key witnesses" and the fact that "no one testified under oath. Worse, witnesses were allowed to speak anonymously, something that would never happen in a legitimate legal proceeding."

The family also argues that the primary piece evidence linking Paterno to the Sandusky cover-up — grand jury testimony where Paterno confirmed he knew of a 2001 incident of a "sexual nature" involving Sandksy and a child — does not prove that Paterno tried to prevent anyone from reporting anything. They criticized Freeh's report for not "present[ing] alternative, more plausible, conclusions" for why Paterno did (or didn't do) certain things. After all, Sandusky had "fooled qualified child welfare professionals and law enforcement, as well as laymen inexperienced and untrained in child sexual victimization like Joe Paterno." Further, they suggested that Paterno did not have a major interest in protecting Sandusky: "They disliked each other personally. They had very little in common outside work, and did not interact much if at all socially." The Paterno family also claims that Feeh's report ignored the coach's lifelong commitment to "integrity."

Here's Dr. Fred Berlin, a Johns Hopkins expert on sexual disorders who also consulted on the Paterno family's investigation:

Remarkably, the Freeh Report shows virtually a complete disregard for Joe Paterno's strength of character, repeatedly demonstrated moral values, and life-long pattern of responsible conduct and leadership' while instead relying heavily upon unsubstantiated inferences and innuendo.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Freeh stood by his report. He called the Paterno family's findings "self-serving," though he also said that they are free to try to restore Paterno's legacy in the press. And that does seem to be the plan: The investigators responsible for the report presented their findings on ESPN's Outside the Lines on Sunday morning, and Paterno's widow, Sue, will be on Katie Couric's show on Monday.