STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — 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 — all registered Jefferson County voters — are expected to meet for roughly three-day stretches for a few weeks at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, said Dan Tierney, spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Mr. DeWine called for the grand jury immediately after the March 17 verdicts to ensure a complete criminal investigation that some claim was corrupted by allegiances to the Steubenville High School football program. Mr. DeWine noted that 16 people refused to be interviewed during the initial investigation.
Social media proved crucial in Judge Thomas Lipps’ decision to find Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond delinquent of raping a 16-year-old girl. The same online platforms that allowed the details of the August, 2012, party to emerge outside the courtroom found their way back in when two teen girls were accused of sending threats about the victim on Twitter in March.
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 things that happen 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.
Mr. DeWine convened the special grand jury to examine whether adults or juveniles failed to report criminal behavior or obstructed the investigation.
Mr. Fitzsimmons said it’s an appropriate continuation of the criminal investigation.
“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 probable cause exists to issue more 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.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Molly Born and Alex Zimmerman are reporters for the Post-Gazette.
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