(CBS/AP) Although Penn State looks to move past a child sex-abuse scandal with the firings of football coach Joe Paterno and the university's president, the school's legal troubles could be far from over, CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen reports.
All of the officials involved in the scandal, including Paterno, could be sued in a civil case by the alleged victims and their families, Cohen said, and if that happens, and the case doesn't settle quickly, we'll likely see a lot of finger-pointing between and among the defendants.
The school's trustees fired Paterno Wednesday night after he faced heavy criticism for not doing more to stop his one-time heir apparent, former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years. Also relieved of duty Wednesday was Penn State president Graham Spanier.
One of the reasons the university fired Paterno last night is to try to insulate itself from the civil lawsuits that may be just around the corner, Cohen said. Now Penn State can at least make the argument that it acted boldly when the full nature of the scandal became clear; whether a judge or jury buy that argument is another story.
Some of the alleged assaults took place at the Penn State football complex, including a 2002 incident witnessed by then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary.
McQueary went to Paterno and reported seeing Sandusky assaulting a young boy in the Penn State showers. Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, who in turn notified Spanier. Curley and Schultz have been charged with failing to report the incident to authorities, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly earlier this week refused to rule out charges against Spanier.
Paterno is not a target of the criminal investigation, but the state police commissioner called his failure to contact police himself a lapse in moral responsibility.
So far Paterno hasn't been charged with perjury for his grand jury testimony last year, but the prosecutor has made it clear that the investigation is ongoing, and clearly at this time it's an active investigation, Cohen said. So even though he's now gone from Penn State he's still in serious legal jeopardy.
It's still unclear whether what he said under oath before the grand jury last year is consistent with what other Penn State officials are saying. And that's the sort of disconnect that prosecutors will focus on.
Sandusky, who announced his retirement from Penn State in June 1999, has maintained his innocence through his lawyer. However, according to a Pennsylvania grand jury report, he told a boy's mother in 1998 that he had showered with her son and with other boys but he wouldn't promise to stop.
State College police listened in to two conversations Sandusky had with the mother, with her permission, after her then-11-year-old son came home with hair wet from showing with Sandusky. At the end of the second conversation, Sandusky was told he could not see the boy anymore.
I understand, State College Detective Ronald Schreffler testified Sandusky said. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead.