Grand jury now seated in Ohio football rape case
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An eastern Ohio grand jury will begin work in about two weeks to investigate whether other laws were broken in the case of a 16-year-old girl raped by two high school football players last year.
Nothing is off the table for the Jefferson County panel selected Monday in Steubenville, said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
“The grand jury is a very good investigative tool as well as a very deliberative body,” DeWine said. It will investigate everything that happened before and after the rape, he said.
The 14-person grand jury — nine members and five alternates — that was seated Monday morning will begin hearing from witnesses April 30, said Dan Tierney, a DeWine spokesman. DeWine has said his office needs more time to evaluate evidence.
Some of the outstanding questions in the case include whether anyone knew about the rape early on but didn’t report it and how dozens of teens attending a party that preceded the attack got ahold of beer and other alcohol.
DeWine has also previously confirmed that the grand jury will look at allegations of another rape the previous April.
A judge last month convicted the two football players of penetrating the West Virginia girl with their fingers after an alcohol-fueled party, once in a moving car and later in the basement of a house.
Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, was sentenced to at least a year in the state juvenile detention system, minus about two months he spent in jail before the trial.
Trent Mays, 17, was sentenced to at least two years in juvenile detention because he was also convicted of photographing the underage girl naked.
One of the reasons DeWine wanted a grand jury is because, even though the teens were arrested within days of the August attack, charges of a cover-up have dogged the case.
Part of that related to inaccurate reports early on that the local prosecutor’s son, who plays on the football team, was involved in the attack. Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin took herself off the case, and DeWine’s office stepped in.
Hanlin told the Steubenville Herald-Star for a story Sunday that investigators decided to pursue the case even after the victim’s father asked that it be dropped. Dropping the investigation would not have been in the best interest of justice, the victim or other potential victims, Hanlin said.
“One of the hardest decision as a prosecutor is to file a first-degree felony against 16-year-olds, but it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Hanlin told the newspaper. “At that point, we were 100 percent convinced they did it.”
Messages were left with an attorney for the victim’s family Monday.
Hanlin also disputed the role that bloggers and online activists played in publicizing details about the rape. She told the newspaper the two players were convicted based on evidence police and agents with the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation had gathered within the first few days of the investigation.
“We were working morning, noon and night, around the clock,” she said. “Not a single piece of evidence presented at the probable cause hearing and the trial was not uncovered by the work of local law enforcement or (BCI) agents.”
The influence of the Big Red football team on community judgment was also questioned, with the coach and district criticized for allowing boys who witnessed the attack to continue playing that fall.
Testimony during the March trial indicated head football coach Reno Saccoccia may have been aware of the rape allegation early on. The coach knew what happened and “took care of it,” according to a text message read at trial.
Coaches are among officials required by state law to report abuse.
The school district, which is not commenting or permitting Saccoccia to speak, has acknowledged that the coach, the superintendent and the high school principal are among those who were interviewed by investigators before the rape trial.
Last fall, bloggers and hacker activists filled cyberspace with allegations that not enough was being done to investigate the entire case. In January, further controversy arose when a 12-minute video that first appeared on YouTube after the rape and mocked the attack was reposted.
In that video, made within hours of the attack, a recent Steubenville high school student, Michael Nodianos, joked about the assault as others in the background laughed along. “She is so raped right now,” Nodianos says in the video.
The National Organization of Women has pressed DeWine for months to charge Nodianos with failing to report a crime.
Nodianos has said he regrets his behavior. His attorney has said the teen didn’t have firsthand knowledge of the attack.
Investigators also interviewed the owners of a Steubenville house where the video was filmed, which was the same place a photograph was taken of the girl being carried by her ankles and wrists. That picture, Exhibit No. 1 at the trial, generated international outrage.
The owners of the house where the party was held weren’t interviewed before or during the trial.
With allegations of a cover-up continuing post-trial, retired Summit County judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove was appointed to oversee the grand jury’s work.
A grand jury doesn’t indict juveniles but could recommend charges that could be brought by a prosecutor.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.