Ensure Justice Is Done in Trial

Attorneys representing two teenagers accused of raping a girl in Steubenville have said they are considering a request the two be tried somewhere other than their home county. One reason they cite is that some potential witnesses in the case have been threatened and warned not to testify, the lawyers have explained.

That is unacceptable, or should be. Threatening potential witnesses in a criminal case is illegal. The popular term for it is witness tampering.

An enormous amount of public attention has focused on the rape allegations. There have been demonstrations in which hundreds of people have criticized law enforcement agencies’ handling of the situation. Claims of some sort of coverup have been made.

Combine that with the nature of the case – of a teenage girl allegedly raped while unconscious with bystanders aware but not acting to stop the attack – and no one in his or her right mind wants to be identified as having been involved in any way. That certainly is pressure enough to worry some potential witnesses.

But if others are attempting to intimidate them to keep them from testifying – for either the defense or prosecution – more crimes are being committed. There is the possibility that justice will not be done fully in the case.

That should outrage everyone in our area.

Prosecution of the two teenagers accused of rape is being handled by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office. Lawyers there should be paying close attention to reports of witness tampering. If it is at the level of illegal intimidation, those responsible should be prosecuted, too.

It is going to be difficult enough to hold the trial even if all potential witnesses cooperate with the authorities. If some are pressured to refuse to do that – or even to lie about what happened – justice will be not just blind in terms of impartiality, but also handcuffed regarding the truth.