STEUBENVILLE -- Two 16-year-old girls who used social media to send messages to a 16-year-old Weirton rape victim entered guilty pleas Thursday to telecommunication harassment misdemeanors and were placed on probation for six months.
On the same day, a grand jury adjourned for three weeks while investigators go back to analyzing evidence and interviewing witnesses to determine whether other laws were broken in the rape case.
The two Steubenville High School students also were sentenced by Jefferson County Juvenile Court Judge Samuel Kerr to 30 days in juvenile detention, but the judge suspended the sentence in favor of the probation and 40 hours of community service.
The two were initially charged with felony intimidation of a witness and aggravated menacing and telecommunication harassment, both misdemeanours.
The girls, through their attorneys, officially denied the charges during a court appearance in March. The juvenile court did not release the girls’ names.
Both defendants told the judge Thursday they “made bad tweets.”
They were originally arrested by Steubenville police March 18, the day after visiting Juvenile Judge Tom Lipps found Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville and Trent Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale delinquent of rape. Mays also was found guilty of a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for allegedly having a picture of the 16-year-old victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone.
The judge also ordered the girls’ cell phones be released to them.
Assistant Prosecutor Samuel Pate said he was satisfied with the plea agreement and the statements made by the two girls.
The panel in Steubenville had met three days in a row before the adjournment was announced after the grand jury wrapped up Thursday afternoon.
The delay until May 23 will allow investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation “to continue evidence analysis and witness interviews,” Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said in a statement.
It’s the second such delay for the panel, which was seated April 15 but didn’t begin work for two weeks while investigators continued their work.
One of the issues before the panel is whether adults like coaches or school administrators knew of the rape allegation but failed to report it as required by Ohio law.
Before Thursday’s adjournment, DeWine had said the 14-person panel would meet three or four times a week with no deadline to finish its work. DeWine has said nothing is off the table for the panel.
Text messages introduced as evidence in the football players’ March trial indicated that head football coach Reno Saccoccia may have known about the rape early on.
The coach “took care of it,” defendant Trent Mays said in one text introduced by prosecutors.
“Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried,” Mays said in another text.
Saccoccia has not commented and school officials say he won’t be made available until after the grand jury concludes.