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DeWine speaks out on rape case

February 10, 2013
Times Leader

Editor's note: The rape trial of two Steubenville teens is set for March 13. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is prosecuting the crime, discusses the case, the national attention that's come with it and other issues as he joins us in the Sunday Sit-Down.

The two teen defendants in the Steubenville rape case are set for trial March 13. What outcome do you expect from your prosecution?

DeWine: These charges were initially filed before we were asked to prosecute them, but we concur in the charges. We will present the evidence - we have a very experienced lawyer who will present the case, she's been involved in many cases. We're in the process now of continuing to interview witnesses. She will present the case, and that will ultimately be up to not a jury - this is not a jury, this is a judge, a visiting judge from Cincinnati - who will ultimately make the decision whether these individuals are found to be delinquent by reason of committing a rape or another crime.

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DeWine: I hope when we're done with this, whatever the outcome, and that's obviously up to the judge, that people in the community and across the state will feel that justice has been done, and will feel that it's been a thorough investigation.

When we got into it, our objective was to leave no stone unturned, to interview anyone who knew anything about it. And we're not only talking about the actual incident itself, but we're investigating who knew what, when. Anybody else who had information, anybody else who might have done anything wrong. So far, only two individuals have been charged, and they've been charged with the actual offense itself, which we believe we can show that these ... juveniles committed the crime of rape. But ultimately, that's going to be up to the judge.

I understand that on social media, there's been a lot of discussion about whether or not there's been a cover-up. We were asked to prosecute this case, we have investigated the case, we have no reason - you know, I'm from the southwestern part of (Ohio), the prosecutor who's prosecuting the case for me is not from Steubenville or Jefferson County - so there's no reason to think that we have any ax to grind in this. The judge who was assigned to the case is from Cincinnati, he is a well-experienced, well-respected juvenile judge, there's no reason to think that he has any angle in this case, either. So I hope that in the end people will be satisfied that justice has been done, whatever the outcome.

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Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine

DeWine: I think her decision to step down is very understandable. Her son is on the football team, she knows people in that community. So I think it's understandable that she asked us to come in and actually handle the prosecution. As far as whether she should have stepped down earlier, it would not have made any difference at all in how this case is being handled. If she had stepped out earlier we would have stepped in earlier, it wouldn't have mattered at all.

DeWine: I think this is unusual; the facts of the case, tragically, are not that unusual. But everything surrounding the case, in the social media particularly, has been unusual. From the initial night when information was being text back and forth, to the postings on the Internet. ... I guess what bothers me ... is that it's always difficult for a victim, any victim, to testify. I think it's particularly tough for a victim who is a victim of sexual assault. Even more difficult if that victim of sexual assault is a juvenile. So here we have a 16-year-old victim who went through the event, is going to have to testify, and in addition - and I think this is what's unusual about this case - in addition to that she's been subjected to continuing victimization, she's continued to be victimized by the social media.

The postings that have been up on the Internet - the one that's go so much attention, the man who was I would say obviously drunk who was talking for 10-12 minutes and degrading her. He wasn't there at the event, but this was recorded in close proximity of time, at least, to when the event occurred, and it's just obnoxious, and her family has to endure that. I think that's what been particularly difficult about this case and what's been unusual about this case.

Fact Box

Mike DeWine, 66

Ohio Attorney General

U.S. Senator, 1995-2007

Four-term U.S. House member

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on ...

allegations of a cover-up in the Steubenville rape case: "I hope when we're done with this, whatever the outcome, and that's obviously up to the judge, that people in the community and across the state will feel that justice has been done, and will feel that it's been a thorough investigation."

  • the national attention surrounding the case: "I think this is unusual; the facts of the case, tragically, are not that unusual. But everything surrounding the case, in the social media particularly, has been unusual. From the initial night when information was being text back and forth, to the postings on the Internet. ... I guess what bothers me ... is that it's always difficult for a victim, any victim, to testify. I think it's particularly tough for a victim who is a victim of sexual assault. Even more difficult if that victim of sexual assault is a juvenile. So here we have a 16-year-old victim who went through the event, is going to have to testify, and in addition - and I think this is what's unusual about this case - in addition to that she's been subjected to continuing victimization, she's continued to be victimized by the social media."
  • the alleged victim and seeking to have the trial closed: "I personally met with the victim and I met with the victim's parents. We had a very good discussion, and during that meeting I made the decision this victim doesn't need to go through a public trial. ... Frankly, I was following the wishes of the victim. The victim is very willing to testify, she is going to testify, the judge ... has ruled that this should be in public, which we accept, and the victim accepts, and the victim will testify in open court."
  • additional charges being filed in relation to the rape case: "Our investigation is continuing. ... We are still interviewing witnesses. We are looking not only at what happened at the scene, but what happened afterward. ... Whether or not there will be (additional) criminal charges, I just don't know. We want to complete the investigation and then we'll sit down and make that decision whether there's evidence to prosecute anyone else. If there's evidence to prosecute someone we'll do it, if there's not we obviously will not do it. ... We're going to look at every aspect of this; this was a tragic night, yet people who had knowledge of it - knowledge in and of itself is not a crime under Ohio law - but there could be some possibility of people being charged."
  • how social media has impacted the case: "A lot of what I've read in the social media is just dead wrong. It's not like the mainstream media, where we have editors, and people who fact-check things, and there's a responsibility, and nothing really gets printed unless there's sources, and all the good practices that newspapers have and that journalists have in general. That just goes out the window when you're talking about the social media. Anybody can post any lie or any speculation they want to on the Internet, and it takes on a life of its own. It is a difficult situation. I'm not sure it makes it difficult for us, but I think it makes it difficult for the victim, I think it makes it difficult for the community. It gets people all riled up about things that sometimes are just dead wrong. ..."
  • on possible immunity for witnesses: "First of all, we made no deal with any of the witnesses. We did not grant immunity, which actually has to be granted by a court. ... We did send a letter ... to three witnesses, and in essence what those letters say is we do not believe, based on the information we have at this time, that the elements of any crime are there to prosecute that individual. That was a statement of fact."

DeWine: A lot of what I've read in the social media is just dead wrong. It's not like the mainstream media, where we have editors, and people who fact-check things, and there's a responsibility, and nothing really gets printed unless there's sources, and all the good practices that newspapers have and that journalists have in general. That just goes out the window when you're talking about the social media. Anybody can post any lie or any speculation they want to on the Internet, and it takes on a life of its own.

It is a difficult situation. I'm not sure it makes it difficult for us, but I think it makes it difficult for the victim, I think it makes it difficult for the community. It gets people all riled up about things that sometimes are just dead wrong, and we have to stay focused, we don't want to try this case in the social media nor in the media. Our obligation as lawyers is to go into court ... to present the evidence, and the judge or the jury makes the decision. We've seen all this information that's dead wrong but we really don't have all that much ability to do anything about it.

DeWine: First of all, we made no deal with any of the witnesses. We did not grant immunity, which actually has to be granted by a court. ... We did send a letter ... to three witnesses, and in essence what those letters say is we do not believe, based on the information we have at this time, that the elements of any crime are there to prosecute that individual. That was a statement of fact.

DeWine: We do not have the elements at this moment to charge any of them.

DeWine: No

DeWine: Our investigation is continuing, I get briefed on it every few days. I just had a briefing (Wednesday) morning, in fact, from our BCI agents and lawyers who are working on the case. We are still interviewing witnesses. We are looking not only at what happened at the scene, but what happened afterward. That's the phase of the investigation we're on now. ... Whether or not there will be (additional) criminal charges, I just don't know. We want to complete the investigation and then we'll sit down and make that decision whether there's evidence to prosecute anyone else. If there's evidence to prosecute someone we'll do it, if there's not we obviously will not do it.

DeWine: I'm not going to exclude anybody. We're going to look at every aspect of this; this was a tragic night, yet people who had knowledge of it - knowledge in and of itself is not a crime under Ohio law - but there could be some possibility of people being charged. Again, the investigation continues, and we're continuing to interview witnesses, although we're getting close to the end of that.

DeWine: I think it's important that when we're done, people in the community feel justice was done, that we left no stone unturned and that we looked at the totality of this case. All the speculation, all the experts out there on the social media continue to ferment this discussion. I think the community needs to be done with this. But the only way the community can be done is if they believe there's been a very, very thorough investigation, so that's what I'm committed to doing.

DeWine: It's exactly what you said - I personally met with the victim and I met with the victim's parents. We had a very good discussion, and during that meeting I made the decision this victim doesn't need to go through a public trial. In juvenile court it's up to the judge whether it's open or not, historically ... almost all juvenile court proceedings were not public. More of them have become public in the last few years, but ultimately it's up to the judge.

The initial request to have it closed came from the defense, and we basically then joined that. ... Frankly, I was following the wishes of the victim. The victim is very willing to testify, she is going to testify, the judge ... has ruled that this should be in public, which we accept, and the victim accepts, and the victim will testify in open court.

DeWine: I think this is very difficult for the family. ... I met with the mom and the dad, as well as the victim. If this was my child, I would just be torn up by it, the prospect of her having to testify. I think it would be very tough. She's doing OK, this is a tough situation for her to go through. The judge has continued the trial, I fully understand that, I accept it, but the sooner this can get over with, I think the better it's going to be for the victim.

DeWine: I don't think that's unusual. ... The judge has to balance the rights of the defendant, when you have defense counsel ask for a continuance, I think it's pretty tough in many cases for a judge not to grant that. But it's tough for the victim, it's tough to have to wait that long to finally be able to get this over with.

DeWine: I think it's the whole move toward transparency. When I was a prosecuting attorney we didn't have cameras in adult courts, that has been a change. I think the whole trend ... is toward more openness, more transparency. In this case, we have a victim who is 16, we have the defendants who are juveniles, we have most of the witnesses who are juveniles, so all these kids are kids. I think there's some logic behind the old way of doing it, which is to not have it open to the public. My concern frankly is just with the victim, for her having to go through this and doing it in open court.

 
 

 

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