Ohio’s AG calling for grand jury

STEUBENVILLE – The message Sunday from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine was clear – it’s not over.

“I have reached the conclusion that this investigation cannot be completed – that we cannot bring finality to this matter -without the convening of a grand jury,” DeWine said at a press conference Sunday at the Jefferson County Justice Center following the conviction of two juveniles of rape.

The main part of the case, which brought national and international scrutiny and was played out in social media, ended Sunday when Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, were found delinquent on rape charges, and Mays found delinquent on an additional charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

Visiting Juvenile Judge Thomas Lipps announced his decision in the nonjury trial in an upstairs courtroom while DeWine watched it unfold in an adjacent media room.

Questions have swirled for months regarding the possible involvement of other juveniles and the culpability of adults who may have supplied alcohol for juveniles, provided a place for alcohol-fueled parties and may have known about the possible crime but didn’t report it.

“I am asking the Jefferson County Common Pleas Court to convene a grand jury to meet on or about April 15. My prosecutors will present evidence to this grand jury for it to determine if other crimes have been committed,” DeWine said.

When pressed during the news conference, DeWine would not identify specific people or specific charges, but he did paint with a broad brush about what is to come.

“As part of our investigation, BCI agents identified 43 individuals who attended at least one of the two parties,” DeWine said. “Investigators interviewed 27 of these individuals, while 16 refused to cooperate.”

The attorney general added that investigators also interviewed the owners of the residence where one of the two parties occurred.

The investigation was not contained to the incidents and individuals involved in events on Aug. 11-12 and the immediate days after, DeWine noted.

“Our investigators further interviewed the principal, superintendent and 27 football coaches from Steubenville High School,” DeWine said.

A total of 56 interviews have been conducted, and specialists at Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification analyzed 13 phones containing 396,270 text messages, 308,586 photos or pictures, 940 video clips, 3,188 phone calls and 16,422 contacts listed in the cell phones.

A total of 16 people have refused to cooperate with investigators for various reasons and have not been interviewed.

“A grand jury is an investigative tool that is uniquely suited to ensure fairness and to complete this investigation,” DeWine said. “And this community needs assurance that no stone has been left unturned in our search for the truth.”

A team of 15 special agents with BCI is, under DeWine’s direction, is working to determine if any other crimes were possibly committed. Greene County Prosecutor William Schenck also is a part of that team.

Schenck is a senior adviser to DeWine and assistant attorney general.

DeWine said expectations should not be raised just because a grand jury will consider some matters.

“The convening of a grand jury does not necessarily mean that indictments will be returned or that charges will be filed,” DeWine said. “However, indictments could be returned and charges could be filed.”

Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin said Sunday night that she would have no role in the grand jury investigation.

“This matter (the grand jury) still deals with the original motion to appoint a special prosecutor in the case,” Hanlin said.

Under the original request when Hanlin formally stepped aside Aug. 24, the special prosecutor and state were “assigned full authority to investigate and evaluate all facts, circumstances and chains of events leading to, related to, connected to and or subsequent to an alleged rape and or kidnapping,” according to the petition.

“I see this (the pending grand jury request) as operating under the same order,” Hanlin said.

During his press conference, DeWine also had some personal views on what transpired on Aug. 11-12, calling the court evidence and testimony “shocking” and “appalling.”

“What’s even more shocking and appalling is that crimes of sexual assault are occurring every Friday night and every Saturday night in big and small communities all across this country. And there comes a point, where we must say, ‘Enough. This has to stop,'” DeWine said.

He referred to Steubenville as a “good community with good people,” and acknowledged it has “suffered and been through a lot.”

“I personally feel for this community and what the citizens have been through,” DeWine said. “I know that it desperately needs to be able to put this matter behind it and begin to move forward.”

He believes the grand jury will help in that process.

“Rape is not a recreational activity,” the state’s top law enforcement officer said. “We, as a society, have an obligation to do more to educate our young people about rape. They need to know it is a horrible crime of violence, and it is simply not OK.”

(McElwain can be contacted at mmcelwai@heraldstaronline.com)