Ohio grand jury begins probe today connected to Steubenville rape case

Jurors to determine involvement of others

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The Ohio special grand jury that will investigate whether more people should be charged in connection with the Steubenville rape case is scheduled to begin hearing testimony today.

A 14-person jury of nine members and five alternates is expected to meet for roughly three-day stretches for a few weeks at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, said Dan Tierney, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Mr. DeWine called for the grand jury immediately following the March 17 verdicts against two Steubenville High School football players to ensure the exhaustiveness of a criminal investigation that some say was corrupted by allegiances to the football program. Mr. DeWine noted 16 people refused to be interviewed during the initial investigation.

On March 17, Judge Thomas Lipps' found Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, delinquent of raping a 16-year-old girl. The judge sentenced Ma'lik to at least a year in a juvenile facility and Trent to at least two years.

Social media played a key role in the case, which drew national attention. Some who attended the Aug. 11 party took cell phone pictures and videos of the assault and then talked about it on Facebook and Twitter. A video later showed up on YouTube, featuring another student joking about the attack.

A day after the verdict, two teenage girls were accused of sending threats about the victim on Twitter.

The girls, both 16, plan to admit to a telecommunications harassment misdemeanor, and will face probation, likely resulting in community service, Jefferson County assistant prosecutor Sam Pate said Monday. He said felony charges of intimidation of a victim will be dismissed.

"When you look at this case as a whole and put it in perspective, this is a fair resolution," he said.

Prosecutors consulted with the victim's parents, who were satisfied with the arrangement, Mr. Pate said, noting the girls had no prior juvenile charges. He added that their case may give pause to others who consider making similar threats.

Bob Fitzsimmons, the attorney representing the rape victim, said whether a felony or misdemeanor, the girls' conduct is "despicable."

"[These threats are] the kind of thing that happens that discourages women from reporting these offenses," Mr. Fitzsimmons said.

Starting today, attorneys from Mr. DeWine's office, who are serving as the special prosecutors, will call witnesses during the closed-door proceedings. Retired Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove of Summit County Common Pleas Court will preside.

"I have a lot of faith in the grand jury, and I think it's a wonderful idea for Attorney General DeWine to convene the grand jury so everyone in the community can rest assured that everything was done to address criminal conduct."

To date, only the two former Steubenville High School football players have been charged in connection with the rape of the Weirton, W.Va., girl, even though other teens attended the party and talked about it on social media.

But that could change if seven members of the grand jury believe there is probable cause to issue additional charges.

Mr. DeWine signaled that failure to report a felony, failure by a mandatory reporter to report child abuse (including rape) and the provision of alcohol to underage persons are all charges that the grand jury could explore, Mr. Tierney said.

Under Ohio law, school employees and other authority figures who interact with minors are required to immediately report suspected abuse or neglect.

Search warrants requested by the attorney general were executed Thursday at the Steubenville board of education offices and other facilities, Steubenville High School and Vestige Ltd. in Medina County, Ohio, a computer forensic services provider used in civil litigation and law enforcement.

Evidence gathered from those searches may be presented to the grand jury.

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Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944. Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.


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