At first glance, the chart looks a bit bonkers, like something from a JFK assassination conspiracy theory website.
There are floor plans. Red, dotted sightlines. Corresponding photographs of the blue-and-white-tiled showers at the Penn State football team’s training facility, where former assistant coach Mike McQueary claims he saw and heard ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing a young boy, a claim that set into motion the biggest scandal in college sports history and led to Sandusky’s conviction on 45 of 48 sexual assault charges.
Now look closer: There’s also a detailed, decidedly non-bonkers list of the discrepancies in Mr. McQueary’s varying accounts of the incident and his reporting of it to others, including disgraced former head coach Joe Paterno.
According to pro football Hall of Famer Franco Harris, those discrepancies are part of a larger mosaic of evidence that exonerates the late Paterno and raises serious questions about the scandal itself.
“I understand the outrage,” Mr. Harris said. “But they painted a lie as the truth. You blame Joe Paterno. You blame Penn State. You don’t look anywhere else. No one looked anywhere else.”
A former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers running back, Mr. Harris hosted “Upon Further Review: Penn State One Year Later” on Sunday at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, a public forum that provided a critical look at the Sandusky investigation, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh’s scathing report on the scandal, NCAA sanctions against Penn State’s football program and media coverage of the story.
Attracting more than 100 people — many wearing blue-and-white Penn State T-shirts, jackets and scarves — the event was the third in a series hosted by Mr. Harris, the de facto leader of a movement to re-examine the scandal and restore the reputations of Paterno and other former university officials, all of whom have been accused of concealing the scandal and failing to prevent Sandusky from molesting children.
For more than three hours, attendees at Mr. Harris’ gathering nibbled on blue-and-white M&Ms and applauded the panel that included Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano, Penn State law graduate and attorney Robert Tribeck and Los Angeles-based filmmaker John Ziegler, a Georgetown University graduate who screened his film “The Framing of Joe Paterno,” a 30-minute documentary that criticizes the media’s role in creating what Mr. Ziegler called “a largely false narrative.”
Sandusky is serving a 30-to-60 year sentence in a Pennsylvania state prison for the sexual abuse of 10 boys. On Wednesday, a judge rejected his bid for a new trial. Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley all are awaiting trial on charges including perjury, conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children.
Paterno was fired in November 2011 and died two months later.
“People think they know the story of the Sandusky scandal,” Mr. Ziegler said. “But they don’t. The media created a false narrative. There’s no evidence that Paterno is the villain. In fact, the media could have made Paterno the hero.”
Beyond media coverage of Paterno, Mr. Ziegler and the other panelists focused on what they saw as flaws in:
• The grand jury presentment that was made public in November 2011 and touched off a firestorm, leading to charges against Sandusky and others.
• Penn State’s decision to fire Paterno and later remove a campus statue of him.
• Mr. Freeh’s report, which concluded that Paterno and other university officials covered up Sandusky’s wrongdoing in order to shield the school’s football program from adverse publicity.
• The NCAA’s decision to fine Penn State $60 million, void 14 seasons of football victories and impose scholarship reductions and a four-year postseason bowl ban, sanctions based on the findings of the Freeh report.
“I think the biggest fear people have in opening this up is being perceived as defending the indefensible,” said Mike Meyer, 35, a Penn State graduate who drove from his home in Raleigh, N.C., to attend the event. “There’s a sense that Penn State just doesn’t get it, that we’re all Joe Pa apologists. But after seeing all of this, I think there are big questions.”
(During a Penn State board of trustees meeting last September, board chairwoman Karen B. Peetz responded to public criticism of the board’s decision to accept Mr. Freeh’s findings by stating there were no plans for a detailed review of the report. Penn State spokesman David La Torre told The Washington Times the school did not have a comment on the questions raised by Mr. Franco and others.)
At the event, Penn State alum Eileen Morgan presented a slideshow assailing Mr. Freeh’s July 2012 report, which cost Penn State a reported $6.5 million to produce.
Of 19 key witnesses in the Sandusky case, she said, only three were interviewed for the report. The report also cited three emails viewed as pointing to a cover-up by Paterno and Penn State officials of Sandusky’s sex abuse — but Ms. Morgan argued that the emails were too “vague” to be definitive.
Eliciting laughter from the audience, Ms. Morgan said that if Mr. Freeh’s investigators actually reviewed “3.5 million pieces of evidence” as they claimed, they would have had to examine “2,000 pieces of evidence per hour.”
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” said Mr. Tribeck. “But I do corporate law for a living, [the Freeh report] reads like something a first-year law student would have written.”
Mr. Tribeck noted that Mr. Freeh was in charge of the FBI investigation into a pipe bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games that led to a local security guard, Richard Jewell, being subjected to intense negative media coverage after being named a person of interest.
Jewell was later cleared of all involvement with the bombing, and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno publicly apologized for the FBI’s leak of his name.
Mr. Tribeck and other panelists also argued that the original grand jury presentment in the Sandusky case contained factual errors and inconsistencies and was given too much credence by the media and Penn State’s board of trustees alike, particularly with regards to Paterno’s firing and alleged culpability.
According to a three-page, tri-fold chart distributed at the event — the one with the photos and floor plans — Mr. McQueary told a grand jury in 2010 that he did not leave out any details of what he believed was Sandusky raping a young boy in the Penn State locker room showers in 2001 when he subsequently discussed the incident with Paterno. During Sandusky’s 2012 trial, however, the chart notes that Mr. McQueary testified that he never told Paterno “the graphic sexual nature of what I saw.”
Mr. Lubrano said the grand jury presentment “borders on prosecutorial misconduct.”
“The presentment states that Mike McQueary reported anal rape,” he said. “We know that this is just not true. I have to believe the prosecution knew that was untrue. That creates question about intent.”
In addition to distributing copies of the chart, event organizers also handed out cards for Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, a group that claims 15,000 alumni as members and seeks to remove every university board member who participated in Mr. Paterno’s ouster.
A vocal and public supporter of his former coach since the Sandusky scandal first broke, Mr. Harris has over the last six months assailed the school’s trustees during a public meeting that saw him have his microphone cut off; confronted NCAA President Mark A Emmert following a speech in Los Angeles; and appeared in his luxury box at a Penn State home football game next to a cardboard cutout of Paterno and a sign reading “Due Process for J.V.P.”
After the event, Mr. Harris said he hoped to hold future panels in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. He also said he would continue promoting his message for another two years.
His goals? Repeal the NCAA’s sanctions. Reset the public narrative. Restore Paterno’s statue, vacated victories and once-sterling reputation.
“We have to show people the truth,” Mr. Harris said. “We know that the truth isn’t a cover-up and a conspiracy. I mean, we know that. Now, it’s a thing of how did it happen, who made it happen, and why did it happen?
“A lot of people said a lot of things, assumed a lot of stuff. And they rammed it down everybody’s throat. Penn State wasn’t living a lie. That’s the wrong picture. And now we’re starting to have a narrative.”