By Ben Brumfield and Mark Morgenstein, (CNN) — Jerry Sandusky is a pedophile and was rightfully convicted, filmmaker John Ziegler said.
Yet he came out in Sandusky’s defense in an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan late Monday, disparaging witness testimony that led to that conviction.
The A.M. radio talk show host recently released controversial interviews he conducted with the former Penn State assistant coach.
Sandusky will probably be incarcerated for the rest of his life for child sex abuse convictions, but he has had his say outside the prison walls in these recorded phone conversations, which Ziegler partially posted on the Internet.
In the audio clips, Sandusky attempted to discredit an eyewitness in the case against him and downplayed what head coach Joe Paterno may have known about his activities.
It was harmless fun
Sandusky recalled in one anecdote trading swats with an undressed boy who was showering near him, but mentioned no sexual acts. He depicted it as mutual amusement for both the boy and him.
“He would get the last smack,” Sandusky said, “and then I would chase him, like, and I ran him into a wall …”
Ziegler combined Sandusky’s account with what he called evidence corroborating it.
In this case, Sandusky did not recall the presence at the incident of a key witness who testified against him. “I never saw Mike McQueary. I don’t know if the young man saw him,” Sandusky told Ziegler.
McQueary, another former Penn State assistant coach, had testified during the trial that he walked in on Sandusky raping a child in the showers at a school facility.
Sandusky scoffed at the testimony.
“I don’t understand how anybody would have walked into that locker room from where he was and heard sounds associated that was sex going on,” Sandusky told Ziegler with a laugh.
Ziegler then held up a paper to Morgan, allegedly a statement from the victim in Sandusky’s narrative, saying that nothing happened. McQueary was lying, the filmmaker suggested, because prosecutors encouraged him to.
Still, Ziegler said he believes Sandusky committed abuse with the horseplay behavior he described. The conviction on actual sexual acts was a “rush to judgment” in Ziegler’s eyes.
During the trial, eight young men gave testimony about Sandusky groping them in a car, soaping them in the shower and sexually assaulting them on a basement waterbed.
Ziegler is fighting for JoePa
Ziegler, a native of Pennsylvania and a former Philadelphia sportscaster, is fighting in the name of Joe Paterno.
“Joe Paterno’s dying wish was — ‘just find out what the truth was,’” Ziegler insisted. “No one has done that for Joe Paterno.”
Talking with Sandusky was “the only way to do that,” he said. Sandusky, who refused to take the stand in his own case, spoke eagerly to him for three and a half hours, according to Ziegler.
Paterno’s family has objected to the recording’s release.
“The Paterno family would prefer to remain silent on this matter,” the family’s attorney, Wick Sollers, said in a written statement, “but they feel it is important to make it clear that they had no role in obtaining or releasing this recording. Moreover, they believe that any attempt to use this recording as a defense of Joe Paterno is misguided and inappropriate.”
The family advised the public to inform themselves via the website Paterno.com and reports from official legal and law enforcement sources.
But on their website, they have defended the iconic late head coach’s reputation, saying the allegations that he knew of the danger Sandusky posed are overblown.
A man on a mission
Ziegler is passionate about his mission, and he has confidence in his opinion. Those appear to be defining qualities, whenever he tackles an issue.
He fights for the reputation of Sarah Palin and is a decided Tiger Woods fan. He goes after the Republican establishment for being too liberal or serving their own pocketbooks, and at times opts publicly against Republicans, preferring Libertarian alternatives. He regularly lambasts the media.
His list of favorite topics can be found on his website.
The sex abuse scandal has tarnished the Penn State sports program’s celebrated reputation and wiped out part of the impressive record racked up by the Nittany Lions under Paterno from the annals of football history.
Last July, the NCAA fined Penn State University $60 million. It also stripped 14 seasons of football victories from the late head coach. The university demolished a memorial statue depicting Paterno in a visionary pose leading a past team to victory.
Paterno died on January 22, 2012, of cancer while the wounds to his legacy were still bleeding.
Ziegler asserts that the Penn State football legend, who made a deep mark on the American sport for over six decades, did not cover up for his abusive former assistant coach.
In his documentary project, titled “The Framing of Joe Paterno,” he is working hard to acquit ‘JoePa.”
“Jerry Sandusky had his day in court. Joe Paterno never did,” Ziegler said. “This is all about Joe Paterno’s alleged culpability, which I don’t believe the facts back up. I think he was railroaded.”
During his at times heated appearance on Piers Morgan, Ziegler accused Morgan of having defamed Paterno on his show. Morgan asked him to calm down.
Ziegler partly blames the media for Paterno’s fall.
He asked Sandusky what he thought his late boss knew about him.
“If he absolutely thought I was (a pedophile), I’d say no,” Sandusky said. “If he had a suspicion, I don’t know the answer to that.”
Who the interview hurt
Penn State, which has alleged that Paterno knew what danger Sandosky posed, joined Paterno’s family in objecting to the release of Ziegler’s interview.
“Jerry Sandusky’s statements today continue to open wounds for his victims, and the victims of child sexual abuse everywhere. We have tremendous respect for the men who came forward to tell their stories publicly,” said Penn State spokesman David La Torre.
The statement from the Paterno family’s attorney echoed that sentiment.
“The release of the audio recording of Jerry Sandusky is a sad and unfortunate development,” Sollers said. “… Releasing a recording at this time, nearly a year after he was found guilty on 45 counts, is transparently self-serving and yet another insult to the victims and anyone who cares about the truth in this tragic story.”
Sandusky was sentenced in October to 30 to 60 years in prison for abusing 10 boys during a 15-year period.
On February 21, he filed an appeal against his conviction and sentence with the Pennsylvania Superior Court, according to court records.
CNN’s Sara Ganim and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report