The investigation into an alleged rape of a teenage girl by high school football players that has rocked a small midwestern community continues to stymie officials, who say high school students with information about the case are thwarting investigators even as the FBI looks into threats made against local authorities who are working on the case.
The local sheriff said his family had received a death threat and the police chief in Steubenville, Ohio, said an email he received shut down his computer.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla was told Wednesday by the Ohio Division of Public Safety that people using false names were threatening his family on Facebook, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
“They said they were going to murder my family and rape my daughters,” Abdalla told the newspaper.
The reported threats made at local officials are in response to the handling of an alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl last August. The victim, who is said to have been unconscious, was allegedly carried around to a series of parties on Aug. 11 and 12 by members of the Steubenville High football team. The girl was allegedly sexually assaulted, repeatedly — first in the back of a car — as others watched and snapped pictures.
Two star high school football players, Ma’Lik Richmond and Trent Mays, both 16, are facing formal rape accusations. Their attorneys have denied the charges in court.
Some question why other students weren’t charged, and bloggers and hacker-activists have alleged a cover-up meant to protect the popular football program.
Potential witnesses for Richmond and Mays have been threatened and pressured not to testify and some are reluctant to come forward, attorneys for the players said Monday as they consider whether to ask the trial be moved and closed to the public.
At issue is publicity surrounding the case and the concerns some witnesses have that their names and addresses may be published through social media and on the Internet.
The current juvenile court judge overseeing the case scheduled next month in Steubenville has previously declined a request to close the proceedings.
“They are reluctant to sacrifice their college career, their reputation, or their otherwise good standing in whatever community they may be found for fear of being vilified, and certain personal information finding its way on the Internet,” said Walter Madison, an attorney for Richmond.
Social media and the Internet are playing a crucial role in the case. Hackers last week released a video purportedly showing a Steubenville student joking about the alleged attack and an attorney for the girl’s family has said online commentary about the case had made the situation harder.
Another Steubenville student dropped a suit last month over comments on a blog that suggested he might have been involved.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is overseeing the case’s prosecution, said the decision will be up to the judge. He declined to comment on the attorneys’ concerns.
“There is obviously a lot going on in the social media and there’s a lot going on in the mainstream media, but ultimately this case will be decided by a juvenile judge who will listen to the evidence, and the case will be presented no differently than it would in any other case,” DeWine said.
Brian Duncan, an attorney for Mays, also said Monday he’s considering a similar request.
“We just want to make sure our client and the other defendant have their proper day in court,” Duncan said.
The two boys are set for trial next month in juvenile court in Steubenville, a city of about 18,000.
Public interest in the case increased with the online circulation of the video, more than 12 minutes long, that shows one young man joking about the accuser following the alleged attack. The hackers who released the video allege more people were involved and should be held accountable.
On Monday, an attorney said the young man regretted the comments, made when he was intoxicated.
The attorney said in a statement that the man, a 2012 graduate of Steubenville High School and an Ohio State University academic scholarship student this past fall, was ashamed and embarrassed about his comments and the effect his behavior has had, especially on his family.
The man is not a suspect in the investigation and was not present at the alleged attack, said attorney Dennis McNamara, of Columbus. He said the man he referred to as “Michael” left a party around midnight where he was told the alleged victim had been drinking and went to a friend’s house where the video was recorded about 2 a.m. on Aug. 12.
“There is no excuse or justification for the comments and jokes Michael made on the video,” the statement said. “With sober reflection, he is ashamed and embarrassed. He sincerely regrets his behavior and the effect it has had on all parties involved, especially his family. He was not raised to act in this manner.”
The statement said the young man played sports but not football at Steubenville.
McNamara said the video was posted on YouTube in August, taken down, then reposted by a hackers’ group last week.
Over the weekend, city authorities launched a website to combat misperceptions about the case, including the allegation that the football team has an unusual sway over the city.
The site, sponsored by Steubenville city and police officials, explains that only a handful of police officers attended local schools and that the city manager herself is not even from Ohio. Its launch followed the hiring of a consultant who’s helping the city handle a barrage of media attention sparked by the case.
As the investigation continues, it has spurred heated commentary online. Some support the defendants and question the character of the teenage girl, while others allege a cover-up or contend more people should be charged.
The latter group includes hacker-activists who point to comments they say were posted around the time of the alleged attack on social media by people who are not charged. (SOURCE)
Oh where oh Where to start…. First thing I want to know is what has happened to moral character in Steubenville, Ohio? “high school students with information about the case are thwarting investigators” Are you serious, just what kind of slugs are people raising in this community? A 16 year old girl was raped…RAPED!!!! They want to bring the girls character into play and blame that. People, an “UNCONSCIOUS” girl has no character. But the people who violated her are friggin scum and it is a testament to a larger problem in society. They want to bring up character, how about the character of the people who raped this girl, the people who took photos, the people who joked about it later! I want to friggin puke I am so pissed off that for one they think they can make death threats against the Sheriff to try and intimidate him. These boys if guilty are worried about their standing in the community. WHAT!!!! If they are guilty their standing is already quite clear! Try them as adults and send their punk asses to prison!
My heart goes out to this girl because I had a very close friend many years ago who had the same thing done to her, I cannot stand punks who think they can do what they want and then think they should not be held accountable for their actions, and to the parents of these monsters, get in the blame line if you are not assuring accountability of your own children. This girls life has been devastated, People instead of outrage are trying to bury this case and anybody hindering this investigation should as well face charges. There comes a time in life where everybody needs to step up and do the right thing, if you cannot find it within yourselves to do that then you are nothing more than a waste of space on this earth.
My prayers are with this young girl and my hope is that justice is served, but what is abundantly clear is the death threats and withholding of information says that a number of people know a crime was committed and their actions make them complicit. What I do know is that at some point the guilty are going to understand the full weight of their actions. Prison has a way of exacting justice from those seeking to elude it. Just be glad it is not me who gets to deliver justice.
Try the Rapists not the victim.