(Reuters) - The widow and the son of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno said on Thursday they were not aware they might be called as witnesses in the child sexual abuse trial of Paterno’s long-time assistant, Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky’s defense lawyer Joe Amendola listed the late coach’s widow, Sue, and son Jay as potential witnesses for the defense during the jury selection process, which concluded on Wednesday. The trial is being held in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.
“Over the last few days, numerous reporters have inquired about the news that Sue Paterno and Jay Paterno have been listed as possible witnesses in the upcoming trial of Jerry Sandusky,” a statement issued by family spokesman Wick Sollers said.
“The Paternos had no advance notice of this development and have no idea if they will in fact be called to testify.”
Opening statements begin on Monday in a case that has focused attention on the issue of child sexual abuse.
A jury of seven women and five men will consider the charges against Sandusky - 52 counts of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year period. He has pleaded not guilty and faces a possible sentence of more than 500 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Prosecutors have accused Sandusky, 68, of meeting the boys through a charity he founded, the Second Mile, and have said some of the assaults occurred at Penn State facilities.
The sexual abuse charges shook Penn State, prompting the firing of both Paterno, the coach with the most victories in major U.S. college football history, and university President Graham Spanier. Paterno died of lung cancer in January, just over two months after his dismissal.
While the trial is under way, the Paterno family will not make any further public comment “unless something exceptional and unexpected develops,” according to the statement.
Underscoring the emotions stirred by Paterno’s firing, an opinion survey by the Penn State Alumni Association showed that 58 percent of alumni were critical of the school’s handling of the coach.
Twenty percent were critical of its handling of Spanier, according to the survey released on Thursday.
Penn State also said in a statement it had completed a new policy for reporting suspected child abuse, including mandated reporter training for all employees.
In addition, if an employee willfully fails to report suspected child abuse, it will result in disciplinary action, up to and including firing.
As part of the Sandusky scandal, two university officials face charges of perjury and failing to report suspected abuse.
Reporting By Dan Burns; Editing by Will Dunham and M.D. Golan