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Paterno family challenges Freeh report

Gene J. Puskar / AP file

Joe Paterno and his wife Susan stand on their porch to thank well-wishers gathered outside in State College, Pa., Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011.

A newly released report commissioned by the family of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno strongly challenges the conclusions by an earlier inquiry conducted for the university.

The embattled college last year tasked former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate the atmosphere surrounding the scandal involving retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the child sex abuse charges against him.

Freeh’s report found that Penn State officials and Paterno himself conspired for years to hide the allegations against Sandusky. The report effectively ruined the reputation of the once-revered coach and lead to the NCAA stripping him of all of his school’s victories from 1998 to 2011.

The new family-commissioned study released Sunday was done by a team reviewing Freeh’s work that included former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh. 

It called the Freeh report “flawed in its investigative processes and methodology, in its access to information, and in its reasoning based on the record, and that ultimately it draws unreliable, unfair and incorrect conclusions as to Joe Paterno.”

Freeh's report reached "inaccurate and unfounded findings related to Mr. Paterno and its numerous process-oriented deficiencies was a rush to injustice and calls into question" the investigation's credibility, Thornburgh was quoted as saying.

Freeh was brought in to conduct an independent investigation of the school's response to allegations and find any shortcomings in governance and compliance to make sure failures don't happen again, Penn State said in a statement Sunday He made 119 recommendations to strengthen policies, and the majority have been implemented, according to the school.

"It is understandable and appreciated that people will draw their own conclusions and opinions from the facts uncovered in the Freeh report," the school said.

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And in a statement released Sunday through a spokesman, Freeh also defended his work.

"I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade," he said.

Meanwhile, sources familiar with the investigation and school record keeping procedures told NBC News that they questioned some of the assertions in the new Paterno report.

For instance, the family’s report argues that: “The conspiracy claim made by the Freeh report based on a string of three emails falls apart under scrutiny. [But] because of a technology switch in 2004, most of the Penn State emails for the time in question are not accessible. Moreover, there are no emails authored by Joe Paterno and none that he received.”

But the sources familiar with the investigation and school record keeping procedures told NBC News that, while the Penn State Athletic Department may have changed its e-mail system in 2004, key e-mails from school officials including those between President Graham Spanier and school administrator Gary Schultz were actually archived.

These e-mail exchanges were cited by Freeh and prosecutors in their reports and in court documents.

And as for the claim that Joe Paterno never authored an e-mail, that is likely technically true, as it is well known that Paterno's assistant typed and printed his e-mails.

According to the Thornburgh analysis for the Paterno family, Freeh's report relied on about 30 documents, including three notes authored by Paterno, and 17 emails. Four emails referenced Paterno – but none were actually sent by the coach who famously shied away from modern technology.

Sandusky, 69, was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison in October 2012, after being convicted last summer of 45 criminal counts. Prosecutors said assaults occurred off and on campus, including the football building.

His arrest in November 2011 triggered the turmoil that led to Paterno's firing days later. Under pressure, Spanier left as president the same day.

The Associated Press contributed to this story