PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Joe Paterno would no doubt have made a dramatic courtroom witness. But legal experts said his death will have little or no effect on the criminal or civil cases to come out of the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal.
“Obviously, you’re taking away a great deal of the high-profile nature of this case, because it deals with Joe Paterno’s football program,” said Jeffrey Lindy, a criminal defense lawyer involved in a clergy-abuse case in Philadelphia. “But with regard to the legal impact of his death, there is none.”
Paterno died Sunday at 85, two months after former coaching assistant Jerry Sandusky was charged with molesting boys and two university officials were accused of perjury and failing to report child sex-abuse allegations against Sandusky to police.
The criminal case against the two university officials may even become more streamlined without Paterno in the mix.
Former university vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley are charged with failing to report to police what graduate assistant Mike McQueary said he told them in 2002: that McQueary saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a locker room shower.
What McQueary told Paterno “was a distraction, and now that that part of the case is really gone, it will focus much more on his interaction not with Paterno, but with the Penn State officials,” said Duquesne University law professor Nicholas P. Cafardi.
Paterno testified for just seven minutes last January before the grand jury. He gave only vague answers _ and was never pressed _ when asked what he knew about anyone accusing Sandusky of molesting boys.
“Well, he had seen a person, an older _ not an older, but a mature person who was fondling, whatever you might call it _ I’m not sure what the term would be _ a young boy,” Paterno replied.
He was asked if he ever heard of any other allegations against Sandusky, who had been the subject of a lengthy campus police investigation four years earlier after a mother complained Sandusky had showered with her young son at the football complex.
“I do not know of anything else that Jerry would be involved in of that nature, no. I do not know of it,” Paterno said, adding, “You did mention _ I think you said something about a rumor. It may have been discussed in my presence, something else about somebody. I don’t know.”
Paterno’s grand jury testimony cannot be used in court, because the defense never had the chance to cross-examine him.