The pain and passion over the Penn State sexual abuse scandal were reignited with new allegations that Joe Paterno was told Jerry Sandusky sexually abused a child as early as 1976 and that two assistant coaches witnessed the abuse of other children.
The allegations were revealed in an order this week by Philadelphia Judge Gary Glazer in litigation between an insurance company and Penn State.
The insurers alleged that a boy told the longtime Penn State football coach in 1976 that he had been molested by Sandusky, who was an assistant coach. The order also cited reports by unnamed assistant coaches who said they witnessed inappropriate contact between Sandusky and children, according to Pennlive.com. Glazer wrote there was “no evidence that reports of these incidents ever went further up the chain of command at PSU.”
Sue Paterno defended her husband’s legacy and said the family had no knowledge of new claims.
“It is time to end this endless process of character assassination by accusation,” she said in a letter read Friday to Penn State’s board of trustees. She asked board members to seek the truth “in the spirit of our love for Penn State and our duty to the victims.”
The allegations were made in victim depositions taken in the insurance case, but those depositions remain under seal, Pennlive.com reported.
In 2001, Paterno told high-ranking university officials one of his assistant coaches reported seeing Sandusky acting inappropriately with a child in a team shower. In 2011, Paterno told a grand jury he did not know of any other incidents involving Sandusky, who retired from Penn State in 1999.
Paterno was fired following Sandusky’s November 2011 arrest and died of lung cancer in January 2012.
Sandusky is serving a decadeslong prison sentence for his conviction in the sexual abuse of 10 children. The university has paid more than $90 million to settle 32 civil claims involving Sandusky. How far back the acts occurred has not been made public.
In his ruling, Glazer found that Penn State had to assume the costs of settlements stemming from claims over most of the 1990s because its insurance policies did not cover abuse or molestation.
When Sandusky abused children at his home or at events held by the children’s charity he started, “he was still a PSU assistant coach and professor, and clothed in the glory associated with those titles, particularly in the eyes of impressionable children,” Glazer wrote.
“By cloaking him with a title that enabled him to perpetuate his crimes, PSU must assume some responsibility for what he did both on and off campus,” he said.
Penn State said in a statement late Friday it has “no records from the time to help evaluate the claims,” noting Paterno could not defend himself.
Tom Kline, a lawyer who settled an abuse allegation with Penn State, said he and other lawyers were aware of claims dating back to the ’70s. He said disclosure of the 1976 allegation “provides one more link in the chain which has been repeatedly denied by those who refuse to come to terms with the tragic reality here.”
But another plaintiff’s lawyer, Michael Boni, urged caution.
“The headlines of these stories is Paterno knew of Sandusky’s molestation in the ’70s – ’76 or ’77. I’m unaware of direct, irrefutable evidence that that’s the case,” Boni said. “Believe me, I’m the last person to defend the guy, but I am the first person to believe in our justice system. And I think you need more than anecdotal evidence or speculative evidence.”
The coach’s son Scott Paterno called the 1976 claim “bunk,” tweeting Friday that “it would be great if everyone waited to see the substance of the allegation before they assume it’s true. Because it’s not.”
Defense attorney Al Lindsay said after speaking with Sandusky that his client denied that any of the incidents described in the court ruling occurred. Sandusky also maintained his innocence throughout the trial.
Paterno was not charged with any crime, and his family is pursuing a lawsuit against the NCAA for commercial disparagement.
Three university officials await trial on criminal charges for their handling of the Sandusky scandal.
(Scolforo reported from Harrisburg.)
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