Grand jury to investigate Steubenville rape case

Monday, March 18, 2013 - 10:00am

A grand jury will investigate whether anyone else should be charged in the events surrounding the August sexual assault of a 16-year-old, Ohio's attorney general said after a judge convicted two teenagers of rape in the incident.

"This community needs assurance that no stone has been left unturned in our search for the truth." Attorney General Mike DeWine said Sunday.

The extended investigation will almost certainly keep an uncomfortable spotlight focused on Steubenville, a down-on-its luck Ohio River mill town that has been the focus of nationwide criticism over the case for months.

After an often graphic four-day trial that focused heavily on texts, photos and videos collected from teenagers' cell phones, visiting Judge Thomas Lipps on Sunday convicted the two boys accused of rape in the case: Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16.

Lipps, who was hearing the case without a jury, also found Mays guilty of disseminating a nude photo of a minor.

The abuse occurred during a series of end-of-summer parties when the girl was too drunk to consent or understand what was happening, according to prosecutors.

Some of the abuse was documented in photographs shown in court and in texts read aloud during testimony. Some of the materials were widely disseminated on the Internet, leaving the victim "continually revictimized," DeWine said.

Lipps sentenced Mays to a minimum of two years in a juvenile correctional facility. Richmond received a minimum of one year. But, like Mays, he could be in detention until he is 21.

The Department of Youth Services will decide how long the boys will remain detained, depending on their behavior and rehabilitation, Lipps said.

They will be required to register as sex offenders and undergo treatment while in detention, and have to stay away from the girl until they are 21. Lipps said he'll decide what sex offender category they'll be listed under once they are released.

Although the teens were tried as juveniles, CNN is identifying them because their names have been made public by the judge and their attorneys, and they have been named in multiple media reports. CNN is not identifying the girl in line with its policy not to name victims of sexual assault.

Further investigation

While he welcomed the verdict, calling it "final justice," DeWine said more work needs to be done in the highly controversial case.

Critics have accused community leaders of trying to paper over rampant misconduct by players of the local high school football team and have suggested that other students took part in the assaults or failed to do enough to stop them.

In an effort to unravel what happened, state investigators have talked to 56 people, from teenagers who attended the parties to assistant football coaches and the high school principal, DeWine said.

But 16 people have refused to talk to investigators, putting a roadblock in the way of completing the inquiry, DeWine said.

"I have reached the conclusion that this investigation cannot be completed, this investigation simply cannot be completed -- that we cannot bring finality to this matter -- without the convening of a grand jury," he said Sunday.

The grand jury will begin meeting around April 15 and could take "a number of days" to complete its work, DeWine said.

"And I should point out that the convening of a grand jury, of course, does not necessarily mean that indictments will be returned or that charges will be filed," he said. "However, indictments could be returned and charges could be filed."

Victim 'will persevere'

The girl at the center of the case was not in the courtroom Sunday when the ruling was read, but her mother gave a statement after the judge's ruling.

"Human compassion is not taught by a teacher, a coach or a parent. It is a God-given gift instilled in all of us," the victim's mother said after court was adjourned. "You displayed not only a lack of this compassion, but a lack of any moral code."

The woman said her daughter will persevere and move on, adding that she has pity for Mays and Richmond.

Bob Fitzsimmons, the girl's attorney, said she was doing well.

"I think she's really happy that this is over. And remember, she is a 16-year-old girl still, and she's a high school student," he said. "She just wants to get back with her normal life, as does the family. It is a big relief to her at this point."

He wouldn't comment when asked if the girl's family plans to sue in civil court.

'No intention'

After the verdict, Ma'lik Richmond apologized before breaking down in tears.

"I had no intention to do anything like that," he said. "And I'm sorry to put you guys through this."

Mays also apologized to the families involved.

"No pictures should have been sent out, let alone been taken," he said.

After the verdict, Richmond's father told CNN that his son was doing OK.

"I told Ma'lik to put all his trust in God. God will see him through this," Nate Richmond said. "I told him that I love him, basically. And to be strong."

Case hinged on consent

During closing statements Saturday, defense attorneys argued that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the boys raped the girl, calling into question the victim's credibility.

They also questioned whether an avalanche of cell phone pictures and videos and social media posts available in the days after the rape, as well as national media coverage ahead of the trial, tainted testimony.

But prosecutors told the judge there is no question the girl was "substantially impaired."

The girl testified Saturday that she remembered little about the night because she was drunk and was "too embarrassed to ask."

The girl testified Saturday that she remembered drinking at the first big party of the night and then holding Mays' hand as she left with him, Richmond and others. She said she also remembered throwing up in the street.

The next thing she remembers, she told the court, was waking up in the morning naked on a couch in an unfamiliar house. She covered herself with a blanket while she looked for her clothes. She testified she could not find her underwear, earrings or cell phone.

"The things that made her an imperfect witness -- that she doesn't remember a lot -- made her in every sense of the word a perfect victim," prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said.

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CNN's Poppy Harlow and Brian Vitagliano reported from Steubenville, Ohio, and Steve Almasy and Chelsea J. Carter reported and wrote the story in Atlanta. CNN's Yon Pomrenze contributed to this report.
 

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