Report: Joe Paterno knew of Jerry Sandusky sex abuse as early as 1976

Even in Joe Paterno’s last days, the iconic college football coach maintained his innocence in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State.

A report published Thursday by offers new evidence Paterno might have first heard about accusations that his former defensive coordinator was molesting children as early as 1976.

Described as “a new bombshell” in the Sandusky saga, the report references a court order on a related insurance coverage case involving the more than $60 million the university has paid out in civil claims filed by victims of Sandusky’s child molesting crimes. Penn State is seeking reimbursement for those settlements from its insurance carriers.

According to PennLive, the court order contains claims by one of Penn State’s insurers that “in 1976, a child allegedly reported to PSU’s Head Coach Joseph Paterno that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky.”

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“The order also cites separate references in 1987 and 1988 in which unnamed assistant coaches witnessed inappropriate contact between Sandusky and unidentified children, and a 1988 case that was supposedly referred to Penn State’s athletic director at the time,” the Penn Live report says.

All of these examples were taken from victims’ depositions used in the still-pending insurance case. According to PennLive, those documents are sealed.

Judge Gary Glazer has decided not to bar insurance time claims from the above referenced dates because, “There is no evidence that reports of these incidents ever went further up the chain of command at PSU,” he wrote.

Penn State told NBC News Thursday night it was aware of the allegations, “but the legal case and confidentiality commitments that govern our settlement agreements preclude us from discussing these matters at all.”

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In a 2012 interview with The Post’s Sally Jenkins, Paterno could not explain how Sandusky evaded him and so many different authorities, for so long.

“I wish I knew,” Paterno said. “I don’t know the answer to that. It’s hard.”

The Paterno family, who have zealously disputed claims that Paterno knew of Sandusky’s misdeeds, spoke out against the latest allegations through an attorney (via PennLive):

“Over the past four-and-a-half years Joe Paterno’s conduct has been scrutinized by an endless list of investigators and attorneys,” the Paterno family’s attorney, Wick Sollers, said in a statement.

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In 2002, Paterno received a report claiming Sandusky had abused a boy in the shower of Penn State’s Lasch Football Building. He forwarded it to his superiors, but, according to Jenkins, wished he had done more to follow up.

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” Paterno told Jenkins. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

In 2012, Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison after being convicted on 45 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys.

On Thursday, Sandusky was granted a hearing, scheduled for later this month, to prove claims that prosecutors lied, withheld evidence and leaked secret grand jury information to find additional victims.