Wednesday, March 20, 2013
The state attorney general’s of- fice would not normally become involved in prosecuting a rape case in juvenile court. But the case involving the assault of a 16-year-old West Virginia girl by two Steubenville football players stopped being a normal case within hours of the crime.
An image of an apparently unconscious girl being carried hand-and-foot by the boys accused of raping her became an electronic trading card. A sickening video of a boy not involved in the rape making lame jokes about how drunk and how “raped” she was went viral.
Suddenly social media transformed an ugly case that could have been handled by any competent assistant prosecutor into a national and even international cause.
The publicity spurred accusations that officials in Steubenville had not responded adequately to the attack because the young men were football players in a town where football is king.
Sorting through the evidence
The case took on a life that required more than local police and prosecutors could give, and so the office of Attorney General Mike DeWine was called in. His Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s cyber-crimes division inspected 13 phones and two iPads. Investigators reviewed and analyzed 396,270 text messages, 308,586 photos/pictures, 940 video clips and 3,188 phone calls. That evidence and testimony from three witnesses who were given immunity, was more than enough to support a finding of delinquency against Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16. Each was sentenced to at least a year in a juvenile treatment center on the rape charges and Mays was sentenced to an additional year on a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. They could be held until they’re 21.
But the case isn’t over. In addition to the cyber evidence, investigators interviewed almost 60 people, including 27 who were at one of two parties on the night of the rape, as well as the superintendent, principal and 27 football coaches at Steubenville High School. Sixteen of the people who attended the parties refused to cooperate.
Despite the convictions, questions remain, especially about whether any adults were aware of or facilitated the prodigious consumption of alcohol by teenagers that night last August. And there are questions about who may have known that the girl was being assaulted, who may have been under an obligation to stop it or who may have found out about the rape after the fact and failed to follow Ohio law in reporting it. That last issue applies especially to coaches.
The most strident critics of Steubenville law enforcement and school officials will never be satisfied. If DeWine were taking the case to the next level just to assuage them, he would be on a fool’s errand.
Following the evidence
But the case became his by assignment from the common pleas court and it is his obligation to follow through, including the convening of a grand jury to hear the evidence that has been assembled and to determine whether additional charges are warranted.
When disgusting images from that night began attracting national and international attention, this case became extraordinary. The attorney general’s primary obligation has been fulfilled in the criminal prosecution and conviction of the rapists. The victim and her family can take comfort in that justice and begin rebuilding their lives.
But Steubenville as a community has to know whether the adults to whom it entrusts its children reacted lawfully during and after the events of Aug. 11. And even after the grand jury completes its work, the school district will have to further address the issue, because even if some coaches didn’t break the law, their actions may have been unethical or unprofessional.
This case has changed lives — none for the better — and it will continue to reverberate.