Ohio attorney general wants more answers regarding Steubenville rape case

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

A couple of months back, Mike DeWine, the attorney general of Ohio, was going through the case his special prosecutors were building over rape allegations involving high school football players in Steubenville, an old mill town along the eastern border of the state.

The case – which resulted in convictions Sunday of Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old West Virginia girl after a night of partying last August – was fairly clear.

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Judge Thomas Lipps granted immunity to three eyewitnesses who could still face charges. (AP Photo)

What DeWine also saw though, were myriad unresolved issues surrounding the case, including reasonable questions coming from the people of Steubenville.

Where did underage kids get the alcohol? Were others involved in some way? Was there a resistance by local authorities to investigate a case involving players from the high-profile Steubenville High Big Red football program?

"The further we got into it, I said, ‘We need a separate investigation,'" DeWine told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday.

So DeWine called the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and told the organization that the Steubenville rape case was going to need a second investigation, eventually with a special grand jury called, even if it didn't lead to the prosecution of anyone. The goal was simply to determine the truth of what went on August 11-12, 2012.

[Related: Steubenville rape trial divides Ohio town]

"The community had to feel that justice was done and anyone who was involved was held accountable," DeWine said. "I felt we had to get to the bottom of this because facts were crying out, who knew what and when."

Investigators have already interviewed 60 people, DeWine said, with others on deck. He plans on calling a special grand jury in Jefferson County in mid-April. State prosecutors will make the case. The grand jury can call witnesses and ask their own questions.

Additional charges to bystanders, including teenagers or adults, may result.

That even includes the three eyewitnesses to two separate acts of rape, one of whom filmed it via camera phone and another who took pictures. The three – Mark Cole, Anthony Craig and Evan Westlake – were granted immunity by Judge Thomas Lipps in exchange for testimony. Critics contended that the three eyewitnesses should have faced felony charges also.

DeWine said if evidence emerges proving they were involved in a crime not covered by the immunity, they could be charged.

"If there are facts that were not covered by immunity, it's possible," DeWine said.

He defended the immunity deals because the testimony of the eyewitnesses was paramount in gaining convictions. Mays was sentenced to a minimum of two years in a youth correctional facility; Richmond received a minimum of one. Each could remain incarcerated until they turn 21.

"This was a case where we had a victim that did not know what happened," he said of the girl who testified she was either blacked out or unconscious, due to alcohol or a drugging, and remembered nothing of the attack. "She was not a witness. We had three people who were witnesses and we needed that testimony. Our main focus was on the rapists themselves."

DeWine wants the decision on whether to pursue charges to come from the grand jury, essentially allowing local citizens to make the call.

His goal, he said, is to be as transparent and thorough as possible, well aware that within the Steubenville community there remains charges, often unfounded, of favoritism being played to protect connected members of the community. Others believe, true or not, that legendary Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia tried to exert influence over local police.

About DeWine's only caution is that while many people, especially other teenagers, acted inappropriately in joking about the rape, it may not rise to the level of a crime. Also, grand juries in Ohio cannot indict anyone for a misdemeanor, although the state may follow any recommendation.

"It's not a crime in Ohio or any other states to be stupid, to be insensitive, to be hurtful," DeWine said. "Behavior that crossed the line may not be criminal."

[Related: Did conviction in Steubenville trial come at a cost?]

DeWine also announced this week the formation of the Sexual Assault Services Expansion Program, which is designed to offer comprehensive services in sexual assault cases to the 44 counties in Ohio that currently lack proper facilities.

He's also hoping to use the high-profile case to raise awareness among teenagers, parents and community members about sexual assaults and the issues that lead to it.

"This isn't just a Steubenville problem. This problem exists in other places," DeWine said.

Let the investigations roll on.

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