Rape case, Internet postings about parties rattle Steubenville, grabs national attention

1/5/2013
BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Activists from the online group Anonymous, outraged by the prospect of athletes possibly being given preferential treatment, protest at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville.
Activists from the online group Anonymous, outraged by the prospect of athletes possibly being given preferential treatment, protest at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville.

COLUMBUS — Recent Internet postings may have flamed national media attention in a 5-month-old case of alleged rape involving Steubenville High School football players, but they haven’t really added anything to the case, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Friday.

Mr. DeWine’s office is leading the prosecution after the local prosecutor and judge recused themselves. The alleged rape of an inebriated 16-year-old girl by two football players amid reveling on the night of Aug. 11 has divided the high school football-enthralled struggling former steel town over whether the two accused players are receiving special treatment.

Hundreds braved the cold to protest last weekend at the Jefferson County Courthouse where the two teenage boys are expected to be tried as juveniles next month. At least one other rally, organized via Internet social media, is expected today.

The case has drawn public outrage not just for what allegedly occurred at the alcohol-fueled parties but also because others present at the parties took photographs or videos and commented or joked about them on social media sites without intervening.

“What’s really sad is the victim continues to be victimized by postings on the Internet, the sharing of pictures,” Mr. DeWine said. “What this young man said in that 12-minute video that resurfaced yesterday and was reposted someplace is despicable. If that were my daughter, how would I feel about it? Any rape case is tragic, sad. In this one, the victim continues to be victimized.”

Protesters hold aloft a sign protesting the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl from West Virginia.
Protesters hold aloft a sign protesting the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl from West Virginia.

That video depicts a young man, who is not one of those charged, joking about what occurred that night. Its release and the attention it has garnered prompted a lawyer for one of the accused teens to take to CNN to question whether his client can get a fair trial.

Mr. DeWine said his office was already aware of the video.

“Our investigation is continuing,” he said. “We are not done. We do have charges filed and a trial date coming up. We are looking at other aspects of the case. … We treat things up on the Internet like we would something we got in an anonymous call. We evaluate it to see if there’s anything that needs to be run down. Some of the allegations aren’t really relevant to a criminal prosecution. It may be relevant to morality.”

“We remind people that we were brought into this case in August,” he said. “We have no ax to grind. We do special investigations across the state whenever there is a conflict or the prosecutor or police do not have the resources to do the investigation. We are taking the lead on the investigation, but we’re talking with Steubenville PD.”

Mr. DeWine’s office has appointed two associate assistant attorneys general to the case — Marianne Hemmeter and Brian Deckert. The trial, set to begin Feb. 13, has been assigned to Judge Thomas R. Lipps, a visiting judge from Hamilton County (home to Cincinnati) some 250 miles away.

Steubenville, a city of 19,000, is 40 miles west of Pittsburgh.

The criminal case against team quarterback Trent Mays and wide receiver Malik Richmond, both 16, is based largely on posted photographs and videos recorded by party-goers. The two players were arrested on Aug. 22 on charges stemming from the alleged rape that apparently culminated from hours of multiple alcohol-fueled parties that served as a kind of unofficial marking of the start of the high school football season.

There is no physical evidence. The alleged victim, who is from Weirton, W.Va., across the Ohio River, and is not a Steubenville student, has said she can’t remember much of what happened that night. The Internet pictures and videos have partially filled in the gaps. Few eyewitnesses have come forward to describe the suspects who are accused of taking sexual advantage of a largely unresponsive person.

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