Grand jury to consider more charges in Steubenville case

Rape investigation grows; new judge to be appointed

3/19/2013
BY JIM PROVANCE BLADE
COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Mike De-Wine, Ohio attorney general, said a grand jury will consider whether additional charges will be filed.
Mike De-Wine, Ohio attorney general, said a grand jury will consider whether additional charges will be filed.

COLUMBUS — Faced with 16 individuals who refused to talk to investigators about August’s 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,” the former U.S. senator said. “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, Presiding Judge Joseph Bruzzese, Jr., 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, Judge Bruzzese pointed to “nameless bloggers making allegations of 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,” he wrote.

The Supreme Court had appointed a visiting judge from Cincinnati to preside over the case through last week’s trial.

Mr. DeWine said he hopes the grand jury will be convened around April 15. It could last several days, but it would be up to the visiting judge to determine the schedule.

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.

Mays and Richmond, a quarterback and a wide receiver, will register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives for sexually assaulting the Weirton, W.Va., girl during drunken parties on the night of Aug. 11.

But the investigation won’t stop there. The proliferation of cell phone photos, videos, text messages, 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 felony after the fact, or tried to thwart the subsequent investigation.

“We’d like to get it done as quickly as we can,” Mr. DeWine said. “We anticipate numerous witnesses.”

Authorities said they won’t put up with people harassing the accuser and took action Monday to prove it, arresting two girls suspected of threatening her well-being in Facebook and Twitter comments Sunday. The Jefferson County girls, ages 15 and 16, were being held in juvenile detention on allegations of aggravated menacing, Steubenville police Capt. Joel Walker said.

“These arrests, I hope, will end the harassment of the victim,” Mr. DeWine said. “We are simply not going to tolerate this. Enough is enough.”

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, it does not necessarily mean additional charges will be filed.

“What’s different about this case is the social media,” Mr. DeWine said. “That’s certainly different from when I was county prosecutor.”

Jacqueline Hillyer of Ashtabula, 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 first-hand knowledge to be liable for the charge of failure to report,” Ms. Hillyer said. “Ohio statute doesn’t require that. 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.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.