Jefferson prosecutor target of threats
By MICHAEL D. McELWAIN
For The Times Leader
STEUBENVILLE – Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin and her family had to leave town during the juvenile rape trial because of threats made against both her and her family.
Sunday evening, Hanlin confirmed that threats had been made, and she found them to be credible. Hanlin said there were instances of threats before, but the number of threats of a specific nature grew.
“As the trial date grew closer, we received a number of them that seemed to be more credible than others,” Hanlin said.
She would not divulge the nature of the threats and would not comment on potential suspects. She did say that the last threat came Tuesday, the day before the trial began.
“I will not and should not comment on the nature of the threats because they’re being investigated,” Hanlin noted.
The information was turned over to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which is handling the matter, she said.
The explosive nature of the juvenile rape case and the involvement of social media groups caused increased scrutiny, Hanlin said.
She has been prosecuting cases since 2005 and noted, “I have never received, nor has my family received, more death threats than during this particular case.”
Though she did not make a connection between the threats and any outside groups, Hanlin said the posts, rumors, innuendo and gossip on the Internet surrounding the case caused more harm than good and could have potentially harmed the investigation or prosecution.
“They never uncovered a single piece of evidence that wasn’t already known,” Hanlin noted. “They made it more difficult on the victim, and they brought an unprecedented level of fear.”
Hanlin said she believed it “made finding justice more difficult than it ever would have been.”
She did, however, give the online aspect credit since some of it involved raising awareness of sexual assault. “Rather than calling it a Steubenville problem or a Big Red problem, it should be a teaching moment for all of us,” Hanlin said.
Despite her view that the social media component was more of a distraction and possible hindrance, Hanlin said justice was served with Sunday’s verdict and sentencing.
Visiting Juvenile Judge Thomas Lipps found Trent Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville, guilty Sunday of rape in connection with an incident involving an underage girl Aug. 11-12. Mays also was found delinquent of a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for having a picture of the 16-year-old victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone.
The non-jury trial at the Jefferson County Justice Center lasted four days, with testimony ending Saturday evening.
“I was very impressed with the way the prosecution handled the case,” Hanlin said. Whenever possible, she watched the trial unfold through parts broadcast from the courthouse and through newspaper website updates.
“This was a case that was difficult and heartbreaking for the victim and for everyone involved,” Hanlin said.
She also praised Lipps’ role, saying, “I think he did an outstanding job presiding over a case that was difficult for everyone involved.”
City police began their investigation after the victim’s parents went to the Steubenville police station on Aug. 14 to report a sexual assault involving their daughter.
As Hanlin coordinated the initial investigation effort with local law enforcement, state investigators were brought in early, records show. BCI was pressed into service on Aug. 16 to help process the crime scene where the rape took place.
On Aug. 27, Hanlin officially requested assistance from the Ohio Attorney General’s office in the prosecution of the two juveniles.
Hanlin had no further involvement with the case, she said.
Walter Madison, Richmond’s attorney, mentioned Hanlin and her son during testimony and during his closing arguments Saturday night.
Charlie Keenan’s (Hanlin’s son) name was mentioned in one report, but the lead investigator testified to excluding him as a suspect or witness saying he accounted for Keenan’s whereabouts during the days in question.
Hanlin said she heard her and her son mentioned indirectly by Madison during the trial.
“I think it was irresponsible for (Madison) bringing it up, especially in closing arguments, when it was clearly explained in testimony that Charlie had absolutely nothing to do with the incident,” Hanlin said.