COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine met today with a group of people urging him to expand prosecutions associated with a Steubenville rape trial to include people who may have witnessed what happened and did nothing to stop it.
Mr. DeWine, whose office is handling the prosecutions, said the investigation will probably wrap up before two 16-year-old high school football players face rape charges in juvenile court on March 13. He plans to hold a press conference in Steubenville to announce whether there will be additional prosecutions after a visiting judge from Cincinnati delivers his verdicts.
Mr. DeWine met with about a dozen people in his office for roughly half an hour. He declined to specifically discuss the potential for charges against the one person who was the subject of a 12-minute YouTube video in which he talked and laughed about the incident just hours after it occurred.
Mr. DeWine, however, did address the issue that has sparked a national debate — whether a culture exists in Steubenville and elsewhere in which sexual assault is tolerated and even joked about.
“This is a question, frankly, of human dignity,” the Republican former U.S. senator and Greene Countyprosecutor said. “It is a question of personal rights, individual rights…We believe — we don’t want to try this case in the press — that the evidence will show that this young woman’s privacy, individual rights, human rights were violated.”
The group of both men and women delivered printouts of 85,000 “signatures” gathered via the Internet fromOhio and across the world calling for the prosecution of Michael Nodianos, 18, of Steubenville for, at the least, failing to report a crime and, at best, abetting a crime by doing nothing to stop it.
“He was joking about it, and that’s bad enough, but the fact that he did nothing to intervene…,” said Jacqueline Hillyer, of Ashtabula, president of the Ohio chapter of National Organization for Women. “He was apparently there because he knew what was going on. He said she’s been raped… and he goes on to describe some of the activities that were fairly disgusting. There must have been other people. Where were the girls?”
The struggling Ohio River steel town is preparing to try two high school football players, quarterback Trent Mays and wide receiver Ma'lik Richmond, for the alleged rape of a 16-year-old Weirton, W.Va. girl in the midst of a series of alcohol-fueled parties on Aug. 11 that marked an informal end to summer and the start of the new football season.
Mr. Nodianos was recorded describing and laughing about the alleged rape of an unconscious girl during the parties. The video was quickly taken down, but was later resurrected by the computer hacking group Anonymous and reposted to the Internet.
It rapidly went viral, prompting protests at the Jefferson County Courthouse and generating a national debate over a culture in which an onlooker could watch such an incident, not intervene, and fail to report a crime.
Columbus attorney Colin McNamee, one of the attorneys for Mr. Nodianos, declined to comment when contacted about the petitions.
Representatives of NOW and the national women’s rights group UltraViolet delivered the petitions to Mr. DeWine. He called the video “disgusting” and “obnoxious,” but he also pointed out that Mr. Nodianos was apparently not a witness to the incident.
He stressed that failing to report a felony is just a fourth-degree misdemeanor, “which was shocking to me.”
“I feel it’s important that not only the state and the country but in particular for the Steubenville community to feel that justice, whatever comes out of this, has been done…,” he said. “And then it’s important for the community to have that behind it and continue on with people going about their lives.”
Two lawyers in Mr. DeWine’s office took over prosecution of the juvenile court case because of conflicts of interest cited by the local prosecutor.
High school football is huge in Steubenville, a city of 19,000 that has more in common with Pittsburgh 40 miles away than it does with Columbus where Mr. DeWine is based. The case has prompted protests over whether law enforcement has given preferential treatment to the two local football stars.