|Joe Paterno's family contends 'someone in a position of authority' is trying to smear the late coach. (AP)|
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Joe Paterno's family and supporters are defending the late coach against a leak of apparently damaging material released during highly secretive investigations into former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Details from a decade-old email have raised new questions about whether the Hall of Fame coach tried to cover up a sex abuse complaint against Sandusky.
With Paterno no longer able to come to his own defense, his family has fought back, with their lawyer accusing "someone in a position of authority" of trying to smear the late coach.
But family spokesman Dan McGinn said Tuesday he wasn't worried about the various investigations' impact on Paterno's legacy. McGinn said Paterno never directed him to protect his legacy or clear his name during their discussions that followed Sandusky's arrest in November.
"Joe Paterno had confidence in the way he lived," McGinn said. "He believed his life record would speak for itself."
Paterno died from lung cancer at age 85 in January, two months after the Penn State trustees fired him, citing a lack of leadership in response to a 2001 report by graduate assistant Mike McQueary about Sandusky showering with a boy in a football team locker room.
Paterno issued a statement in December that said he reported the McQueary complaint to athletic director Tim Curley, and "that was the last time the matter was brought to my attention."
But CNN has reported that an email from Curley indicated he changed his mind about going to child welfare authorities after speaking with Paterno, which suggests the longtime coach took a more active role in the decision than what he described.
Curley, now on leave from the university, and retired vice president Gary Schultz, are awaiting trial on charges they did not properly report the suspected child abuse, then lied to a grand jury about how seriously they viewed McQueary's report.
It's unclear how the email traffic about Paterno might affect their criminal defense: whether it will be used to show how the men agonized over a difficult decision or whether the correspondence suggests the powerful head football coach was really calling the shots. A spokeswoman for their lawyers offered no immediate comment on the subject Tuesday.
Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts, including four related to the encounter described in McQueary's testimony, but acquitted of the most serious count in that encounter.
On Monday, the Paterno family issued a statement asking for release of all relevant emails and records from the attorney general's office and from the company hired by Penn State to conduct a review.
McGinn said the description of Curley's email did not provide the context needed to understand the coach's actions.
"No one should be drawing conclusions based on partial information," McGinn said. "We're cautioning everybody: What you've got is lots of people passing rumors, claiming to have information, leaking information."
McGinn said Paterno told him only to speak the truth.
"He wanted the truth, he wanted to make sure that we respect due process in this," McGinn said. "Because in the end, you want an investigation or a trial or a review, you want it to stand up over time."
Questions about what Paterno knew arose in the fall when Sandusky, Curley and Schultz were arrested. At the time, Attorney General Linda Kelly said Paterno was not a target of the investigation into how the school handled the accusations.
State police Commissioner Frank Noonan, however, said then that Paterno may have met his legal requirement to report suspected abuse by Sandusky, but "somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child."
In January 2011, Paterno testified before a grand jury, saying he reported McQueary's complaint to Curley. He spoke to the panel for about eight minutes.
McGinn said that despite the very limited nature of the questioning, there was no agreement beforehand with prosecutors to limit it.
"Most people are shocked" that it was just eight minutes, McGinn said. "They say that just doesn't seem right."
The board of trustees was hit with a backlash among alumni and former players over their dismissal of Paterno, and has held off on any decision about apologizing to the Paterno family or setting up a permanent campus memorial to him until after a review they commissioned is released, likely in the next month or so.
Alumni want a full accounting, said Maribeth Roman Schmidt, spokeswoman for Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. The group was organized after Paterno was fired and has sought more truthful and transparent leadership for the university.
"It does make you wonder, if (his firing) was handled any differently, and they were able to sit with him and have discussions about this scenario while he was still living, would we all know something more about the situation?" Schmidt said.
Any confirmation that Paterno was involved in the decision not to report the shower assault won't matter to 1966 Penn State alumnus Michael S. Kirschner, a Bryn Mawr businessman and who chaired the Paterno Library board.
"To me it doesn't, because I love the man. I learned from him, and I can walk from my home in Philadelphia to Penn State in the footsteps of mistakes I've made," Kirschner said. "The legacy of those of us who believed in him will not be tarnished. No matter what."