Grand jury sought to investigate cover-up in Steubenville rape case
March 19, 2013 8:00 AM
Michael D. McElwain/Steubenville Herald-Star
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, right, answers questions about the successful prosecution of two juveniles in a rape case during a news conference Sunday in Steubenville, Ohio. He is joined by prosecutors Marianne Hemmeter and Brian Deckert.
By Jim Provance Block News Alliance
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Faced with 16 individuals who refused to talk to investigators about the August rape of a 16-year-old girl by two Steubenville High School football players, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is about to begin what he called "phase two" of the investigation.
"We've started looking at whether any other crimes were committed -- any obstruction of justice or anything of that nature," said the former U.S. senator. "We've already interviewed an awful lot of people. I have found in my experience as a prosecutor that a grand jury is a very good investigative tool, and we're going to use the grand jury for that."
In a letter received Monday by the Ohio Supreme Court, Joseph Bruzzese Jr., presiding judge of Jefferson County Common Pleas Court, asked that a visiting judge be appointed to convene the grand jury. The court did not immediately make a decision.
In his letter, he pointed to "nameless bloggers making allegations" of a cover-up.
"These nameless bloggers, while having produced no evidence of a cover-up, have managed to assemble quite a following locally, nationally and internationally," Judge Bruzzese wrote. "For this reason, I believe that no local officials should have anything to do with the grand jury proceedings proposed by the attorney general.
"It is therefore my request that the Supreme Court appoint some other judge, hopefully from as far away as possible, to preside over those proceedings."
The Supreme Court had appointed a visiting judge from Cincinnati to preside over the case through last week's trial. Judge Bruzzese has offered to make the county's existing grand jury members available or to get an entirely new panel.
Mr. DeWine said he hopes the grand jury will be convened around April 15.
The previous visiting judge, Thomas Lipps, on Sunday found Ma'lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, guilty of the juvenile charge equal to rape, sentencing them to at least a year and two years, respectively, in juvenile detention. They could remain there until they turn 21.
Trent and Ma'lik will register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives for sexually assaulting the Weirton, W.Va., girl during parties on the night of Aug. 11.
Ohio authorities have arrested two eastern Ohio girls suspected of making social media threats against the West Virginia girl who was raped.
Mr. DeWine said the girls arrested Monday posted threatening Facebook and Twitter comments Sunday, the day the players were convicted. Mr. DeWine says the girls are being held on allegations of aggravated menacing after an investigation by state and local authorities.
But the investigation won't stop there. The proliferation of cell phone photos, videos, texts and other social media posts in the wake of the crime has led to calls for Mr. DeWine to pursue bystanders who may have seen what was happening and did nothing to stop it, failed to report the incident after the fact, or tried to thwart the investigation.
"We'd like to get it done as quickly as we can," he said. "We anticipate numerous witnesses."
During the closed-door grand jury proceedings, attorneys from Mr. DeWine's office will call witnesses before a jury of nine members. A vote of at least seven would be needed to indict.
Mr. DeWine stressed that just because a grand jury is convened does not necessarily mean additional charges will be filed.
Jacqueline Hillyer, president of the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for Women, was among about a dozen people who met with Mr. DeWine in his Columbus office earlier this month. She praised Mr. DeWine's decision to call a grand jury.
"You don't have to have firsthand knowledge to be liable for the charge of failure to report," Ms. Hillyer said. "Many of these people could be charged. ... I hope they're taking a look at the role of those coaches and school personnel who have given these boys the belief that what they did was OK, or excusable, or that someone would take care of it."
Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of the national women's right group UltraViolet, said the crime captured the attention of a nation and that hasn't stopped with Sunday's verdicts.
"People have seen with their own two eyes online," she said. "People have read about what came out in the case. If justice is not served coming out of this crime, there will be a lot of outraged women and men."
Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Jim Provance is a reporter for The Blade. The Associated Press also contributed to this report. First Published March 19, 2013 4:00 AM