December 19th, 2011
03:18 PM ET

North Korea: What it's like inside secretive nation

Editor's note: After Kim Jong Il's death brought tears in North Korea and caused concern for South Korea, we're taking a look at the secretive nation from the view of those who have traveled there.

The first time that Brit Simon Cockerell visited North Korea, he noticed how clean it seemed. The air was not polluted like in Beijing, where he has lived since 2000. Another curiosity also struck him: In the capital of Pyongyang, there were no advertisements or billboards, and there was no traffic.

One of the rare times one might see North Koreans out and about during the day is when co-workers are doing aerobics with their "work unit" in the morning, he said. Around lunchtime, workers might venture outside again, perhaps stringing up a net or marking a line in the street to play a quick match of volleyball before returning to the grind.

"It's a place that can seem very dead during the week. There are a few bars in Pyongyang, but they close around 10 p.m. There are no crowds. And this is odd, because there are 3 million who live in that city," said Cockerell, who has visited North Korea more than 100 times.

"There isn't any hustle or bustle. Everything is a five-minute drive away. You wind up, typically, on your first day saying to yourself, 'Bloody hell, I'm in North Korea, where is everyone?' "

North Korea's is a working society, he said. The workweek is six days, and children are often in school. "On the weekends, you might see people in parks, though," Cockerell said.

But all that work does not equal advancement or personal riches.

"It's an exceptionally poor country," he said. "People don't spend money because they don't have it, and there's not much to buy anyway."

Cockerell works for the China-based tourism company Koryo Group. British ex-pat Nicholas Bonner, who also lives in Beijing, co-founded the company, which offers tours ranging from two-day visits to Pyongyang to 16-night trips across the country. The typical Koryo client is highly adventurous and well-traveled. North Korea is a much-desired passport stamp for many travelers, the company  says.

"There are people who go to North Korea expecting to be spied on, and they make up their minds that it's going to be dramatic," Cockerell said. "I hate to spoil someone's sexy story, but there's no way to tell if that's happening. Visitors experience the place the way they want to experience it. So you see an odd-looking man across the street whose gaze is lingering a bit too long. Is he a spy? Would it be more interesting if he were? There's really no way to know. You can't ask someone and get an answer, which, of course, to some people heightens the mystery."

One reason there are very few cars is because fuel is imported and, consequently, very expensive. Leisure, drinking and dancing are not forbidden, but most people spend time at home with friends and family, he said. And the lack of pollution isn't indicative of a government that's cooperating with air quality regulations.

"It means that there's no industry and that the economy is suffering," he said.

In recent years, Cockerell has noticed that Chinese wholesalers are selling clothes to North Koreans. "The clothes are cheaply made, but they have some element of style. People will hang a bit of bling off their cell phones," he said.

Tourists can't accessorize their mobile phones because they must surrender them before entering the country and get them back when they're leaving, Cockerell said. But iPads, computers and digital reading devices like Kindles are allowed. "This policy doesn't make sense, but it's been around for many years," he said.

Koryo gives tours of North Korea to about 1,500 tourists every year, including a two-day visit for about 700 euros. A 16-night adventure is available for many thousands more. During a longer trip, Koryo can charter a private plane to fly to the west coast and along the DMZ, then head to the northeast coast, where tourists can stay with a North Korean family in a structure built for tourists.

Most of the buildings in Pyongyang are boxy and dully designed. The city is dotted with oddly placed gigantic monuments to the government. Pictures of leader Kim Jong Il are tacked everywhere.

While there is no organized religion in North Korea, there are a few churches in Pyongyang, Cockerell said.

The closest element to a religion was devotion to Kim, whose death was announced Sunday.

"I'm sure the devastation that people feel today is tremendous," Cockerell said.

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Arrest warrant issued for Iraq's vice president
December 19th, 2011
12:23 PM ET

Arrest warrant issued for Iraq's vice president

[Updated at 12:35 p.m. ET] Iraq's Judicial Committee issued an arrest warrant Monday for Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who is accused of orchestrating bombing attacks.

The warrant was issued under "Article 4," which is terrorism.

The Interior Ministry, at a news conference, showed what it called confession videos from people identified as security guards for al-Hashimi. In the videos, the men described various occasions in which they purportedly carried out attacks under direct orders from al-Hashimi.

One man said he carried out assassination attempts using roadside bombs and guns with silencers. He said the orders came from the vice president and at times through the director of his office.

CNN could not immediately confirm that the men in the videos were bodyguards for al-Hashimi.

Three of the vice president's security guards were detained earlier this month.

Al-Hashimi's office did not answer calls from CNN Monday.

Over the past few days, the office told CNN it feared that al-Hashimi's three guards would be forced to make false confessions.

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December 19th, 2011
12:20 PM ET

Reid won't reopen negotiations until House passes payroll extension

[Updated at 12:20 p.m. ET] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Monday he will not agree to reopen negotiations with House leaders on the payroll tax cut until the House passes the two-month extension already approved by the Senate.

[Posted at 10:40 a.m. ET] Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Monday morning he expects the House of Representatives to reject the Senate's two-month extension of the payroll tax cut.

Boehner also said he expects the House to pass legislation reinforcing the need for a one-year extension, and wants the matter to be taken up by a House-Senate conference committee.

"We oppose the Senate bill because doing the two month extension instead of a full year extension causes uncertainty for job creators," he said. "I used to run a small business. I met a payroll. I hired workers. A two month extension creates uncertainty and will cause problems for people who are trying to create jobs in the private sector."

"The idea that tax policy can be done two months at a time is a kind of activity we see here in Washington that's really put our economy off its tracks."

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is expected to vote Monday evening on a short-term extension of the popular payroll tax cut, but the measure is facing fierce resistance from conservatives upset with both the temporary nature of the bill and its impact on funding for Social Security.

How it affects you | How it's paid for

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Filed under: Economy • John Boehner • Politics
December 19th, 2011
11:13 AM ET

Timeline: Kim Jong Il's life

Kim Jong Il, North Korea's longtime leader, died of a heart attack on Saturday, but state news outlets did not report his death until Monday. His life, like his death, was shrouded in mystery and details are elusive, but here are some main points about the man regarded as one of the world's most repressive leaders.

* July 8, 1994 ‚Äď December 17, 2011 – Leader of Democratic People's Republic of Korea, a communist state with an authoritarian regime.

* Sometimes called the "Dear Leader," a name he gave himself.

* His height is variously reported as 5'3" or 5'4".

Personal
* Birth: February 16, 1942 (although some sources say 1941). Scholars and historians believe he was born in Russia, but that his birthplace has been altered in many sources to Mt. Paektu because legend has it that this is where Korea was founded.
* Death: December 17, 2011
* Parents: Kim Il Sung, president of North Korea and Kim Jung Sook
* Spouse: Kim Ok (from July 2006); Ko Yong Hee (died August 2004); Kim Yong Sook; Sung Hye-Rim (mistress)
* Children: with Ko Young Hee - Jong-chul and Jung-un (sons); with Sung Hye-Rim - Sul Song (daughter) and Jong-nam (son)
* Education: 1960 – 1963 or 1964 – Kim Il Sung University, Pyongyang, degree in political economy, also attended aviation school in East Germany.

FULL POST


Filed under: North Korea • World
December 19th, 2011
10:18 AM ET

Czechs bid farewell to anti-communist hero Havel

The coffin of former Czech President Vaclav Havel went on display in St. Anna's Church in central Prague Monday for people to pay their respects, the Czech News Agency reported.

Havel died Sunday at the age of 75, and his funeral has been scheduled for Friday, the agency said.

Admirers poured into the streets of Prague Sunday night with candles and flowers in memory of Havel, people on the scene said.

The former dissident playwright helped topple communism in eastern Europe through the power of his words, insisting, "Truth and love triumph over lies and hate."

His longtime friend and translator Paul Wilson remembered him as a "a very shy and gentle man with a will of steel, who was fearless when confronting a regime that tried, relentlessly, to crush his spirit."

FULL STORY
December 19th, 2011
09:45 AM ET

Florida A&M president to stay on job during probe of student's death

Florida A&M University President James Ammons will remain in office during an investigation into the suspected hazing death of a student, the school's board of trustees decided Monday.

The decision comes days after Florida's governor recommended to the board that it suspend Ammons during an investigation into various issues at the university, including the November death of marching band drum major Robert Champion Jr., 26.

Some band members said Champion died after taking part in a rite of passage involving a beating aboard a bus. One member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that students "walk from the front of the bus to the back of the bus backward while the bus is full of other band members, and you get beaten until you get to the back."

Authorities have ruled Champion's death a homicide.

Four students were expelled from the school, and 30 others were dismissed from the band after Champion's death, Ammons wrote in a letter to the board of trustees last month.

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Filed under: Crime • Florida
December 19th, 2011
08:35 AM ET

U.S. watching North Korea closely after Kim Jong Il's death, general says

Editor's Note: North Korea's enigmatic leader Kim Jong Il - who, after succeeding his father 17 years ago, captained his poor, closed nation and antagonized its enemies - is dead, state media reported Monday. Kim, 69, died at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, state media reported.

A broadcaster reported that Kim died due to "overwork" after "dedicating his life to the people." Kim died of "great mental and physical strain" while in a train during a "field guidance tour," North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency reported.

As North Koreans face an uncertain future without Kim Jong Il, the world's attention now turns to his son Kim Jong Un, whom the ruling Workers' Party has dubbed the "great successor." Little is known about him in the West; he is believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s.

Photos: Kim Jong Il through the years | Video: The life of Kim Jong Il

Follow along with CNN's  minute-by-minute developments on the death of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il  and share your thoughts at iReport.

[Updated at 8:35 a.m. ET Monday] The chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said one of the U.S. military's priorities following news of Kim Jong Il's death is to monitor North Korea's troop movement. So far, no movement of North Korea's forces has been noted, Dempsey said, according to CNN's Barbara Starr.

A short-range missile test that North Korea conducted Monday reported earlier by South Korean media was not a surprise and is not of particular concern, Dempsey said. South Korean media have reported that South Korean government officials do not believe the test was related to Kim Jong Il's death.

[Updated at 7:56 a.m. ET Monday] Stocks in Asia slumped on Monday amid fears that Kim Jong Il's death could lead to instability on the divided Korean peninsula.

Japan's Nikkei lost 1.3%, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong slid 1.2%, and the Shanghai Composite shed 0.3%. South Korea's Kospi fell the most, plunging 4.9% in mid-morning trading in Seoul, before climbing slightly to end 3.4% off.

Asian stocks already were battered by fears that possible credit downgrades in European countries could derail a solution to the eurozone debt crisis.

[Updated at 7:36 a.m. ET Monday] Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea chair of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Kim Jong Un will be succeeding his father in "less-than-ideal conditions," in part because he has had little time to prepare for leadership.

Whereas his father was groomed for leadership for more than a decade, Kim Jong Un - who is Kim Jong Il's third son - seems to have been positioned as successor only recently. Though he was named a four-star general last year, he never served in the military - something that has bothered some North Korean military commanders, Cha said.

Cha, a former White House National Security Council member and an expert on North Korea, said that in North Korea's system, a new ideology is supposed to come from new leadership. No ideology from Kim Jong Un has been publicly released, Cha said.

It is hard to say whether a struggle for succession will ensue, Cha said, because the Kim family has been like royalty in North Korea, though it is unclear how much support Kim Jong Un will have.

Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also said it wasn't clear whether Kim Jong Un will take power uncontested. He noted that North Korea's Workers Party acknowledged in a statement that Kim Jong Un is the designated successor - a sign that the power structure is coalescing around him.

[Updated at 7:01 a.m. ET Monday] North Korea test-fired a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan on Monday morning, South Korean media reported.

An unnamed South Korean government official said ‚Äúthis is something the (South Korean) military had been keeping track of for some time, and I believe it is unrelated to the death of Kim Jong Il,‚ÄĚ South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

[Updated at 6:29 a.m. ET Monday] Asked if North Korea will see a succession struggle, Jim Walsh, an international security expert with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Security Studies Program, said the situation was hard to predict. Kim Jong Un's father began grooming him for the job only three years ago after the father suffered a stroke.

In contrast, Kim Jong Il himself was groomed over a period of 14 years before taking the reins from his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994. Even then, Walsh said, it took a year or two for Kim Jong Il to consolidate power, Walsh said.

[Updated at 6:23 a.m. ET Monday] Jim Walsh, an international security expert with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Security Studies Program, says North Korea's transition of leadership will be a "delicate time to get through," in part because young successor Kim Jong Un will be looking to establish himself.

One of a regime's first thoughts upon the death of a leader is about whether enemies will take advantage of the situation, Walsh said. Walsh said North Korea will want to show strength, and he noted that South Korea's military reacted to Kim Jong Il's death by going on high alert.

"If you're in (North Korea's capital of) Pyongyang, that looks like threatening behavior ... so this is going to be a delicate time to get through,‚ÄĚ Walsh said.

[Updated at 5:50 a.m. ET Monday] South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak, at an emergency Cabinet meeting Monday to discuss the government's response following the death of Northern Korean leader Kim Jong Il, said that peace and stability on the Korean peninsula "should not be threatened by what has happened."

"We must make thorough preparations to maintain peace and stability and continue to work closely with the international community,‚ÄĚ the South Korean president said.

[Updated at 4:29 a.m. ET Monday]  Seoul put South Korean forces on high alert and Pyongyang urged an increase in its "military capability" as the death of North Korea's enigmatic leader Kim Jong Il spurred fresh security concerns in the tense region.

A tearful state TV broadcaster reported Kim's death Monday. She said the 69-year-old leader died Saturday due to "overwork" while "dedicating his life to the people."

North Korea's official KCNA news agency said Kim suffered "great mental and physical strain" while on a train during a "field guidance tour." Kim, who had been treated for "cardiac and cerebrovascular diseases for a long period," suffered a heart attack on Saturday and couldn't be saved despite the use of "every possible first-aid measure," according to the agency.

In the country where Kim was revered as "dear leader," passers-by wept uncontrollably on the streets of Pyongyang.

[Updated at 3:19 a.m. ET Monday]  The death of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has ushered in a period of tremendous uncertainty in Northeast Asia, with every move by countries in the region risking unpredictable reactions from others.

South Korea ramped up its level of military alert Monday following the announcement of Kim's death, while Japan held emergency military meetings. The United States said it was in close contact with the South Korean and Japanese governments.

"It's a moment that's rife for miscalculation and unintended consequences," CNN's Wolf Blitzer said.

The region is a combustible geopolitical mix. The South, which has the support of the United States, and the nuclear-armed North, allied with China, have technically remained at war since the conflict that split the peninsula in the 1950s.

Even before Kim's death, tensions had spiked between the two Koreas last year. The North was accused of sinking a South Korean naval vessel in the Yellow Sea and fired artillery at a South Korean island in November 2010, killing two civilians.

But the United States and other parties had appeared to make progress in recent weeks to try to rekindle negotiations over the North's nuclear program, known as the six-party talks.

Those efforts now seem to have been in vain.

[Updated at 2:48 a.m. ET Monday] As North Koreans face an uncertain future without Kim Jong Il, the world's attention now turns to his son, whom the ruling Workers' Party has dubbed the "great successor."

"Kim Jong Un's leadership provides a sure guarantee for creditably carrying to completion the revolutionary cause ... through generations," the letter said.

But little is known about the deceased leader's youngest son. Even his age is uncertain to most of the outside world: he is believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s.

FULL POST

December 19th, 2011
05:16 AM ET

Protesters battle for control of Egypt's Tahrir Square

Police and military troops clashed Monday with protesters in Egypt's Tahrir Square, the symbolic center of the uprising that brought down President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.

At least two protesters were killed, according to field doctor Ahmed Khalil, bringing the total number of dead in protests to 13 since Friday.

Monday was the fourth day that pro-democracy demonstrators battled Egyptian security, their anger stoked by images of a military police officer stomping on a woman's exposed stomach over the weekend.

Gigi Ibrahim, a prominent activist who was present at the clashes early on Monday, accused the army and police of firing "indiscriminately."

"They stormed into the square destroying cars, shops and even the field clinic and they will blame it on protesters," he said.

Control of the square has gone back and forth between the protesters and security forces, who have fired live ammunition, bird shot and tear gas.

"Dozens of detainees arrested during the clashes have suffered serious injuries that need medical attention," said Ragia Omran, a lawyer who volunteers to assist detained protesters, who said some prosecutors were allowing wounded to be transferred to hospitals and some were not.

But Major Mohamed Askar of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which rules Egypt, said protesters were capturing and wounding soldiers.

FULL STORY

Filed under: World
December 19th, 2011
04:48 AM ET

Up to 15 more people found after Russian oil rig sinks

Rescue workers have found a raft with up to 15 people aboard near an offshore Russian drilling rig that capsized in the Sea of Okhotsk - but it was unclear if they were alive, officials said Monday.

"Aircraft have found a rescue raft. Up to 15 people may be aboard; it is unknown whether they are alive or not," Yuri Melikhov, general director of rig owner JSC AMNGR, told reporters.

The rig capsized during a storm Sunday as it was being towed from Kamchatka. There were 67 people aboard the Kolskaya platform, which was subcontracted to a company working for the Russian energy giant Gazprom, state news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

By Monday, the death toll had reached 16 after authorities found more bodies in the freezing water. Fourteen others were rescued.

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Filed under: Environment • Offshore drilling • Russia • World
December 19th, 2011
03:19 AM ET

Kim Jong Il's death leaves a combustible region on edge

The death of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has ushered in a period of tremendous uncertainty in Northeast Asia, with every move by countries in the region risking unpredictable reactions from others.

South Korea ramped up its level of military alert Monday following the announcement of Kim's death, while Japan held emergency military meetings. The United States said it was in close contact with the South Korean and Japanese governments.

"It's a moment that's rife for miscalculation and unintended consequences," said CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

The region is a combustible geopolitical mix. The South, which has the support of the United States, and the nuclear-armed North, allied with China, have technically remained at war since the conflict that split the peninsula in the 1950s.

Even before Kim's death, tensions had spiked between the two Koreas last year. The North was accused of sinking a South Korean naval vessel in the Yellow Sea and fired artillery at a South Korean island in November 2010, killing two civilians.

But the United States and other parties had appeared to make progress in recent weeks to try to rekindle negotiations over the North's nuclear program, known as the six-party talks.

Those efforts now seem to have been in vain.

Kim's death makes the negotiations "seem even further out of reach than they were before," said Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, project director for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent and resolve conflicts.

Kim had controlled the opaque, authoritarian North Korean regime for more than 15 years. The sudden announcement of his death thrusts his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, onto center stage. But the younger Kim's intentions and leadership capabilities remain murky.

Kim Jong Un is young and inexperienced, said Mike Chinoy, a senior fellow at the US-China Institute. He added that it remained to be seen whether he would be able to consolidate his power and whether he would actually lead or just be a figurehead.

The danger, according to Kleine-Ahlbrandt of the International Crisis Group, is if the younger Kim and his close supporters find themselves in a weak position domestically and feel the need to make a show of military muscle to appear stronger.

"Then you get into the fireworks and provocation side of North Korean policy," she said.

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December 19th, 2011
02:28 AM ET

Kim Jong Un: The 'great successor' remains an enigma

As North Koreans face an uncertain future without Kim Jong Il, the world's attention now turns to his son, whom the ruling Workers' Party has dubbed the "great successor."

"Kim Jong Un's leadership provides a sure guarantee for creditably carrying to completion the revolutionary cause ... through generations," the letter said.

But little is known about the deceased leader's youngest son. Even his age is uncertain to most of the outside world: he is believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s.

He is believed to have been schooled in Switzerland and is thought to be capable of speaking some English and German, and possibly some French.

He is said to have a fondness for Michael Jordan and James Bond.

In October 2010, he was promoted to the rank of four-star general just before a rare meeting of the country's ruling party. The announcement was the first formal mention of his name in official state communications.

At one point, Kim Jong Il's eldest son, Kim Jung Nam, was considered the top candidate to succeed his father before he fell out of favor after he got caught trying tosneak a trip to Tokyo Disneyland using a forged passport.

In an interview with Japan's TV Asahi last year, he said he opposed the "hereditary succession for three generations."

He, however, added, "I would like my younger brother to do his best for the people of North Korea and their true wealth."

But Kim Jong Un is simply "not ready" to rule, said Victor Cha, a former White House National Security Council member and an expert on North Korea.

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North Korea: 'Heart of Kim Jong Il stopped beating,' but he'll always be remembered
South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, left, meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2000.
December 19th, 2011
02:13 AM ET

North Korea: 'Heart of Kim Jong Il stopped beating,' but he'll always be remembered

A message to North Koreans was posted on state-run news agency KCNA after the death of Kim Jong Il reflecting on his life and the future of North Korea.

Read the message in full below:

"The Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea, the National Defence Commission of the DPRK, the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and the Cabinet of the DPRK on Saturday announced the following notice to all party members, servicepersons and people:

The Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea, the National Defence Commission of the DPRK, the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and the Cabinet of the DPRK notify with bitterest grief to all the party members, servicepersons and people of the DPRK that Kim Jong Il, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, chairman of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army, passed away of a sudden illness at 08: 30 on December 17, Juche 100 (2011) on his way to field guidance.

He dedicated all his life to the inheritance and accomplishment of the revolutionary cause of Juche and energetically worked day and night for the prosperity of the socialist homeland, happiness of people, reunification of the country and global independence. He passed away too suddenly to our profound regret.

His sudden demise at a historic time when an epochal phase is being opened for accomplishing the cause of building a powerful and prosperous socialist state and the Korean revolution is making steady victorious progress despite manifold difficulties and trials is the greatest loss to the WPK and the Korean revolution and the bitterest grief to all the Koreans at home and abroad.

FULL POST

December 19th, 2011
12:12 AM ET

Penn State rebuffs CNN request for records on 1998 Sandusky investigation

Penn State has rejected a CNN public records request for a copy of a 1998 campus police report tied to sexual misconduct allegations made against then-assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, a lawyer for the school told CNN.

Amy Elizabeth McCall, an assistant general counsel, asserted in a letter to CNN that Penn State is "a state-related institution" and not a "state school" like some in other states, and therefore does not have the same public records requirements as other public institutions.

"Because the 1998 investigation did not result in any criminal charges, it is not criminal history information and the university's police are thus required by law to keep that information within the police department," McCall wrote.

According to a grand jury's report released in early November, the mother of one of Sandusky's accusers - identified as Victim 6 - came forward and said the coach had showered with her son and hugged him.

Two campus police detectives eavesdropped on conversations in May 1998 when the mother confronted the coach, who retired a year later from the Nittany Lion program. Police later monitored a second conversation that month, in which the mother told Sandusky to stay away from her son.

"I understand. I was wrong," Sandusky said, according to the grand jury report. "I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

No charges were ever filed in that instance, and local and state law enforcement authorities did not look deeper into those and other allegations against Sandusky until years later.

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Filed under: Jerry Sandusky • Joe Paterno • Justice • Penn State • Pennsylvania • U.S.