Did Penn State coach Joe Paterno help cover up Jerry Sandusky sex abuse?

CNN reports an apparent effort to go slowly on a report that Sandusky had sexually assaulted a boy in a locker room shower. Coach Joe Paterno had discussed the incident with other officials.

Paul Vathis/AP
In this 1999 photo, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has been convicted of sex abuse involving 10 boys over 15 years, but the story is far from over.

There will be further investigations, the trial of two former Penn State officials, civil lawsuits against the university by victims of Sandusky's abuse, and a likely appeal of his conviction.

Now, legendary Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno has become a larger part of the story as well.

IN PICTURES: Fallout from the Penn State scandal

Citing email exchanges between senior Penn State officials in 2001, CNN reports an apparent effort to go slowly on what a graduate assistant said he had seen: Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the team locker room shower.

The emails between former university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, and vice president Gary Schultz, at first suggested contacting the state Department of Welfare, which investigates suspected child abuse.

But a day later, the officials agreed that a more “humane and a reasonable way to proceed” would be to approach Sandusky (referred to not by name, but as “the person”) with the allegation but not involve state authorities.

"The only downside for us is if message isn't 'heard' and acted upon and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it, but that can be assessed down the road," one email said, according to CNN.

Coach Paterno (who was fired for “failure of leadership” because of the sex scandal and died in January) had said that he reported graduate assistant Mike McQueary’s information to the athletic director, believing that was his only obligation in the case.

But the timing of the officials’ change in plans alluded to in the emails – coming after athletic director Curley had discussed the reported shower incident with Paterno – raises questions about whether the coach was more involved than he said in the decision to proceed in a more “humane and a reasonable way.”

The fact is, the incident back in 2001 was not acted upon in a way that might have prevented subsequent sexual abuse by Sandusky over the next decade. Nor was there ever an attempt to identify the boy seen in the shower by McQueary, or to check on that boy’s well-being.

Paterno is no longer here to defend himself of any suggestion that he was part of a cover-up.

Wick Sollers, the lawyer for the Paterno family, said in a statement Saturday that it would be inappropriate for the family to comment on the contents of the emails because the family doesn’t have them, reports the Associated Press.

"To be clear, the emails in question did not originate with Joe Paterno or go to him as he never personally utilized email," Sollers said.

Former Penn State president Graham Spanier was forced to resign. It’s been reported that he has sued the university for copies of his email traffic between 1998 and 2004 – possibly necessary in any legal defense. Former university administrators Curly and Schultz face charges of lying to a grand jury about the 2001 incident.

University trustees are waiting for the report of an investigation headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh

IN PICTURES: Fallout from the Penn State scandal

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