STEUBENVILLE - The special Jefferson County grand jury that will meet this month will determine if any additional crimes have been committed in connection with the rape of a 16-year-old girl and finally put the case to rest, but the proceedings also may substantiate allegations of a second rape, said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Minutes after Judge Thomas Lipps found Steubenville High School student-athletes Trent Mays, and Ma'Lik Richmond delinquent for rape last month, DeWine disclosed that 16 people, mostly teenagers, refused to talk to investigators leading up to the trial.
The case, DeWine asserted, could not conclude without a special grand jury investigation.
"It would be a mistake to think this grand jury is focused on them entirely," DeWine said of those 16 people. "We don't have any one person we're focused on. What we're trying to do is get to the bottom of this and find out if anyone violated the law."
He would not comment on who may be called to testify.
Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale and Richmond, 16, of Steubenville each were sentenced to at least one year in an Ohio Department of Youth Services facility. They can be held there until they are 21 years old.
He also ordered Mays to spend at least one year in the youth center on the charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
DeWine said the grand jury is not an inquiry into the rape of the Weirton girl, noting the investigation into that crime closed with the convictions of Mays and Richmond. Prosecutors instead will use the closed-door session as an investigative tool. DeWine acknowledged, however, that the proceeding may conclude with no one being charged.
"The focus is not on the rape itself; that trial is over with," he declared this week. "The focus is to determine if any other laws were violated. We're going to file the evidence and see where it takes us. It may take us that there are no charges filed, or that there are charges filed."
In the months leading up to the trial, many were demanding that more people be charged - at least with failure to report a crime. Failure to report a felony in Ohio is a fourth-degree misdemeanor - the state's lowest level crime. DeWine pointed out that in order to charge someone with such an offense, authorities must first prove a crime was committed, which did not occur until Lipps found Mays and Richmond guilty.
State law also requires people in certain positions, such as teachers and coaches, to contact law enforcement if they have reasonable cause to believe that abuse or neglect of a child occurred.
"We want to bring finality so the community feels that justice has been done - that nothing has been swept under the rug and everyone has their day in court," DeWine added.
Testimony during the trial, including hundreds of text messages that were exchanged following the crime and read aloud in court, showed teenagers speaking callously about the victim and flippantly about the crime.
DeWine hinted that those actions do not equate to criminal activity.
"I would caution, however, that a grand jury does not make moral judgments, it makes legal judgments," DeWine said. "Bad behavior and bad judgment are not necessarily crimes."
DeWine anticipates holding a news conference after the jurors have deliberated to announce if anyone will be charged. The grand jury can indict adults on felony or misdemeanor charges, but not juveniles. Charges against juveniles, if any, will be filed in Jefferson County Juvenile Court and will be prosecuted by DeWine's office.
Two 16-year-old girls who allegedly made threats to the rape victim following the verdict against Mays and Richmond already have been arrested and charged with felony intimidation of a witness as well as misdemeanor aggravated menacing and telecommunication harassment. They were released under house arrest after appearing before Jefferson County Juvenile Judge Sam Kerr.
Kerr ordered the girls not to use social media or have any contact with the victim in the rape case. Kerr said the girls will be allowed to resume their schooling and participate in any extracurricular activities.
During the special grand jury, prosecutors will also investigate a second alleged rape that reportedly occurred in Steubenville about a year ago, but DeWine would not disclose any details surrounding those allegations. He will announce the status of that investigation following the conclusion of the grand jury, as well.
DeWine said grand jury proceedings are closed to the public to protect the innocent. He stressed that the proceedings do not determine guilt or innocence; instead, they determine if there is probable cause for someone to stand trial for a crime. If charges are filed, the subsequent proceedings will be open to the public, he added.
The grand jury is expected to commence April 15, with jury selection taking the entire first day. The court will adjourn after the jury is selected and return days later to hear testimony. DeWine does not expect the grand jury to convene on consecutive days consistently, which will prolong the process.
Visiting Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove was appointed to preside over the hearing. The judge instructed the court to send summons to 150 prospective jurors, twice the number for a regular Jefferson County grand jury.