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Lawyers: Ex-president of Penn State denies learning of abuse

By the CNN Wire Staff
July 11, 2012 -- Updated 0252 GMT (1052 HKT)
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier said he was never told of any incidents of abuse by Jerry Sandusky.
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier said he was never told of any incidents of abuse by Jerry Sandusky.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Paterno's family says they wanted a chance to give his side
  • Freeh will discuss the findings of his investigation on Thursday
  • Penn State's ex-president has met with investigators conducting an internal probe
  • Jerry Sandusky was recently convicted of abusing 10 boys over 15 years

(CNN) -- Former Penn State President Graham Spanier told investigators hired by the university that he was never informed of any incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described sexual abuse or criminality, Spanier's lawyers said Tuesday.

Spanier met Friday with investigators for former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who is leading an internal review of Penn State's handling of the scandal that is unrelated to criminal investigations.

Freeh said he will release and discuss his investigation into "the facts and circumstances of the actions of the Pennsylvania State University" relating to Sandusky on Thursday. The online report will include recommendations.

Probe eyes Paterno's preference for handling problems internally

Spanier "has wanted the Freeh Group to create an accurate report and has been determined to assist in any way he can," his attorneys Peter Vaira and Elizabeth Ainslie said in a written statement.

According to the attorneys, Spanier requested the interview despite Penn State's and the Pennsylvania attorney general's refusal to allow him to see his own e-mails from more than a decade ago.

"Selected leaks, without the full context, are distorting the public record and creating a false picture," the attorneys said. "At no time in the more than 16 years of his presidency at Penn State was Dr. Spanier told of an incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described child abuse, sexual misconduct or criminality of any kind, and he reiterated that during his interview with Louis Freeh and his colleagues."

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According to Penn State's board of trustees, Spanier was fired in November because "he failed to meet his leadership responsibilities."

Questions have surfaced about what Penn State officials knew about a 2001 incident involving Sandusky's encounter with a boy in the shower, and whether they covered up the incident. A graduate assistant testified that he reported the incident to legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, who was fired along with Spanier, but prosecutors say Penn State authorities failed to report the allegation to police.

Paterno died in January. In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, his family said they also wanted the chance to give his side to Freeh's investigators.

"Joe Paterno did not cover up for Jerry Sandusky," they said. "Joe Paterno did not know that Jerry Sandusky was a pedophile. Joe Paterno did not act in any way to prevent a proper investigation of Jerry Sandusky. To claim otherwise is a distortion of the truth."

They said Paterno "did not fear the truth, he sought it."

"If he were with us today, we are certain Joe Paterno would say that he wished he had done any number of things differently," the family said. "We also believe he would make it clear that he was not an investigator, law enforcement officer, child services professional or a member of the Board of Trustees. Joe would accept his responsibility, but he would expect others to step forward as well."

CNN does not have the purported Spanier e-mails. However, the alleged contents were read to CNN.

The messages read to CNN indicate Spanier and two other former university officials knew they had a problem with Sandusky after the 2001 shower incident, but apparently decided to handle it first by using a "humane" approach before contacting outside authorities whose job it is to investigate suspected abuse.

"This is a more humane and upfront way to handle this,' Gary Schultz, who was a university vice president at the time, allegedly wrote.

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

Records show no authorities were ever contacted and Sandusky, a former football defensive coordinator, was eventually charged with having sexual contact with four more boys after the 2001 incident. On June 22, Sandusky was convicted of abusing 10 boys over 15 years.

In an exchange of messages from February 26 to February 28, 2001, Spanier allegedly acknowledges Penn State could be "vulnerable" for not reporting the incident, according to two sources with knowledge of the case.

"The only downside for us is if the message (to Sandusky) isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it," Spanier purportedly writes.

The alleged e-mails among Spanier, Schultz, 62, and former Athletic Director Tim Curley, 57, never mention Sandusky by name, instead referring to him as "the subject" and "the person." Children that Sandusky brought on campus --some of whom might have been victims -- are referred to as "guests."

The purported exchanges began 16 days after graduate assistant Mike McQueary first told head coach Joe Paterno on February 10, 2001, that McQueary believed he saw Sandusky make sexual contact with a boy in a locker room shower.

Photos: Jerry Sandusky convicted on 45 counts

Since the scandal broke, Schultz and Curley have publicly maintained McQueary reported only inappropriate conduct -- horsing around. The purported e-mails indicate the men could be at additional risk for not disclosing the matter to authorities. Schultz and Curley are currently charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury and failing to report suspected child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.

Shortly after his dismissal, Spanier issued a statement that said, in part, "I was stunned and outraged to learn that any predatory act might have occurred in a university facility or by someone associated with the university. ... I would never hesitate to report a crime if I had any suspicion that one had been committed."

Freeh's group has been poring over internal Penn State e-mails and has interviewed a past university official about the way Paterno influenced a variety of disciplinary matters, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Freeh's law firm was hired last fall by university trustees.

Despite Sandusky scandal, Penn State draws $208 million in donations

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

Photos: Paterno as Penn State coach

CNN National Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

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