Grand jury seated in rape case
STEUBENVILLE – A 14-member grand jury was selected at approximately 11:30 a.m. today. The group was called to investigate whether other laws were broken in the case where a 16-year-old was raped by two high school students late last year.
Earlier in the day, several prospective members were dismissed. The grand jury consists of nine members and five alternates.
According to initial reports, the grand jury will meet for four days a week beginning April 30.
Nothing is off the table for the Jefferson County panel, said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
“The grand jury is a very good investigative tool as well as a very deliberative body,” DeWine said. It will investigate everything that happened before and after the rape, he said.
Some of the outstanding questions in the case include whether anyone knew about the rape early on but didn’t report it and how dozens of teens attending a party that preceded the attack got ahold of beer and other alcohol.
DeWine has also previously confirmed that the grand jury will look at allegations of another rape the previous April.
A judge last month convicted the two football players of penetrating the West Virginia girl with their fingers after an alcohol-fueled party, once in a moving car and later in the basement of a house.
Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, was sentenced to at least a year in the state juvenile detention system, minus about two months he spent in jail before the trial.
Trent Mays, 17, was sentenced to at least two years in juvenile detention because he was also convicted of photographing the underage girl naked.
One of the reasons DeWine wanted a grand jury is because, even though the teens were arrested within days of the August attack, charges of a cover-up have dogged the case.
Part of that related to inaccurate reports early on that the local prosecutor’s son, who plays on the football team, was involved in the attack. The prosecutor took herself off the case and DeWine’s office stepped in.
The influence of the Big Red football team on community judgment was also questioned, with the coach and district criticized for allowing boys who witnessed the attack to continue playing that fall.
Testimony during the March trial indicated head football coach Reno Saccoccia may have been aware of the rape allegation early on. The coach knew what happened and “took care of it,” according to a text message read at trial.
Coaches are among officials required by state law to report abuse.
The school district, which is not commenting or permitting Saccoccia to speak, has acknowledged that the coach, the superintendent and the high school principal are among those who were interviewed by investigators before the rape trial.
Last fall, bloggers and hacker activists filled cyberspace with allegations that not enough was being done to investigate the entire case. In January, further controversy arose when a 12-minute video that first appeared on YouTube after the rape and mocked the attack was reposted.
In that video, made within hours of the attack, Michael Nodianos, joked about the assault as others in the background laughed along. “She is so raped right now,” Nodianos says in the video.
The National Organization of Women has pressed DeWine for months to charge Nodianos with failing to report a crime.
Nodianos has said he regrets his behavior. His attorney has said the teen didn’t have firsthand knowledge of the attack.
Investigators also interviewed the owners of a Steubenville house where the video was filmed, which was the same place a photograph was taken of the girl being carried by her ankles and wrists. That picture, Exhibit No. 1 at the trial, generated international outrage.
The owners of the house where the party was held weren’t interviewed before or during the trial.
With allegations of a cover-up continuing post-trial, a special judge, retired Summit County judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove, was appointed to oversee the grand jury’s work.
DeWine said last week that the grand jury, once seated, won’t begin work for about two weeks. He said the delay relates to his office’s continuing evaluation of evidence.
A grand jury doesn’t indict juveniles but could recommend charges that could be brought by a prosecutor.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)