Purported e-mails suggest Paterno may have altered decision not to report abuse

Story highlights

  • Penn State officials failed to report a 2001 incident involving Jerry Sandusky
  • E-mails suggest Joe Paterno may have played a role in that decision
  • Paterno died in January; the family attorney says Paterno never interfered with probe
  • Source: Penn State was researching its legal obligation to report incident

Former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno may have played a greater role than previously known in a decision made by university officials not to report a 2001 incident involving former coach Jerry Sandusky and a boy in a locker room shower, according to e-mails written by university officials.

CNN does not have the e-mails, but the alleged contents were made available to CNN.

A jury last month convicted Sandusky, 68, the Nittany Lions' former defensive coordinator, on multiple charges of sexual abusing 10 boys over a period of 15 years.

At Sandusky's trial, former Penn State graduate assistant Mike McQueary testified he believed he saw sexual contact between Sandusky and a boy in the shower and told Paterno in February 2001.

Disturbing e-mails could spell more trouble for Penn State officials

Paterno, a revered Penn State icon who died in January, testified before a grand jury that when he learned about the situation, he contacted his then-boss, athletic director Tim Curley, as required and left it up to the university to investigate.

In court documents, prosecutors state they have e-mails from university officials that allegedly contradict grand jury testimony of Curley and Penn State vice president Gary Schultz, who oversaw campus police.

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The alleged e-mails, the contents of which were first reported by CNN, were among other documents, including a Sandusky file, discovered by Penn State and turned over to state prosecutors as part of ongoing investigations, according to both Penn State and prosecutors.

One of the newly revealed alleged e-mails appears to show Paterno had another, previously undisclosed conversation with Curley about the shower incident.

On February 26, Penn State's vice president told Curley, the athletic director, to contact Sandusky, alert child welfare authorities and inform Second Mile, the charity Sandusky founded for disadvantaged children, a purported e-mail says.

After Curley spoke with Paterno, however, the athletic director allegedly told the school president that he had changed his mind about the best course to pursue.

"After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday -- I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps," he purportedly wrote the following day.

Instead of alerting authorities, Curley allegedly wrote, he would prefer meeting with Sandusky, telling him they knew about another incident in 1998, and offering him professional help. He suggests notifying the Second Mile "at some point" if Sandusky is cooperative, and "maybe" child welfare officials. If Sandusky did not cooperate, Curley suggested notifying both Second Mile and child welfare.

How the case unfolded

How much the purported conversations between Paterno and Curley influenced the decision not to contact outside agencies, something Penn State was required to do under state law, is unclear.

An internal Penn State investigation headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh also has turned up billing records from Penn State officials to the university's outside council around the time of the 2001 incident showing Penn State was "researching its legal obligations" for reporting the assault, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation. The results of Freeh's investigation are expected before the end of the summer.

Asked whether Penn State had any comment on the alleged e-mails, school spokesman David La Torre said the university and board of trustees are "reserving comment" until after Freeh's report is released.

Wick Sollers, a lawyer for the Paterno family, issued a statement following CNN's disclosure of the purported e-mails.

"Some number of e-mail exchanges between former Penn State officials have apparently been leaked to the media. Since the Paterno family is not in possession of these e-mails, it would be inappropriate to comment on their supposed content," the statement said. "To be clear, the e-mails in question did not originate with Joe Paterno or go to him as he never personally utilized e-mail."

Sollers noted that Paterno, "from the beginning ... warned against a rush to judgment in this case. Coach Paterno testified truthfully, to the best of his recollection, in the one brief appearance he made before the grand jury. As he testified, when informed of an incident involving Jerry Sandusky in 2001, Coach Paterno followed university procedures and promptly and fully informed his superiors. He believed the matter would be thoroughly and professionally investigated and he did not interfere with or attempt to compromise any investigation."

Monday, Sollers released another statement, calling on Freeh and the Pennsylvania attorney general to release all e-mails and records they have related to the case. The "selective" leaking of e-mails "is not intended to inform the discussion but to smear former Penn State officials, including Joe Paterno," said Sollers.

"The public should not have to try and piece together a story from a few records that have been selected in a calculated way to manipulate public opinion. Joe Paterno didn't fear the truth, he sought the truth. His guidance to his family and his advisors was to pursue the full truth. This is the course we have followed for 9 months. It is the course we will follow to the end," he said.

Painful chapter closes with Sandusky's conviction

Paterno testified to the grand jury that McQueary was "very upset" when relating the incident and told him that he saw Sandusky "doing something with a youngster. It was a sexual nature," according to a transcript. Paterno said he told Curley.

Attorneys for Schultz and Curley issued a statement on their behalf.

"For Curley, Schultz, Spanier and Paterno, the responsible and 'humane' thing to do was, like Governor (Tom) Corbett, to carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague, but troubling allegations," the attorneys said in a statement to CNN on Friday. "Faced with tough situations, good people try to do their best to make the right decisions."

Paterno and Spanier were ousted from their jobs after the Sandusky scandal broke in November. When Paterno was fired, the university's board of trustees questioned his leadership for not doing more. Schultz had retired in 2009.

Paterno family spokesman Dan McGinn told CNN the coach's final guidance to him before Paterno died was "to seek the truth" and due process for everyone involved.

Calls to Spanier's lawyer have not been returned.

Curley and Schultz have pleaded not guilty to charges of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. It's not known when the Pennsylvania attorney general's office will complete its ongoing investigation of what Penn State knew about the 2001 incident and how it was handled.

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