Online threats complicate Ohio school rape case

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm •  Published: January 12, 2013
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Rape charges were filed 10 days later against two players, Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond, who were detained and held in a juvenile detention center.

They were released on house arrest Nov. 1 after a judge determined their case would stay in juvenile court. They're attending an alternative school inside the local justice center. Their attorneys say the case should be moved out of Steubenville because of the publicity and closed to the public to protect witnesses.

"We need to take a step back and assess the situation," said Richmond's attorney, Walter Madison. "It's gotten way out of control."

The Associated Press normally does not identify juveniles who are suspects in crimes or charged in juvenile court, but Mays and Richmond have been widely named in media coverage, and their names have been used in open court.

Authorities say they had enough evidence to charge Mays and Richmond based on the testimony of three other students who saw the alleged attacks. Two of those students would have been charged with recording the attacks with their cameras, but the images could not be found, authorities say.

The girl did not testify at the October hearing, at which the judge found enough evidence to charge the boys with rape.

Last fall, a high school student whose name has come up in testimony sued a blogger and anonymous posters to a true crime blog for comments suggesting he was implicated in the attack. The lawsuit was settled when the family withdrew the complaint and the blogger clarified the boy was not at the scene of the assault.

The case went viral again right after New Year's, when a 12-minute YouTube video emerged in which another student made derogatory comments about the alleged victim, while others chimed in off camera. The student in the video, made Aug. 12, was not present at the assault, and the video was filmed at a different house. The boy's attorney said the student regretted the comments.

The same week, the city set up a website, Steubenvillefacts, in hopes of dispelling rumors about the case and claims that any influence the football program or its backers might have on authorities.

Sheriff Fred Abdalla, whose office executed search warrants to seize cellphones, has been the subject of threats, including calls to his house after his home number was posted online. He says he backs the efforts of groups like Anonymous to unearth information, but says it's clear others will never be satisfied there was no cover-up.

"God from heaven can come down and say, 'No it's not,' and they'd say, 'Yes it is,'" Abdalla said.

Many residents are sick of the attention and say the justice system should be allowed to work.

"Are you trying the rape case or are you trying the accountability and credibility of city officials?" Terrance Elder Sr., 64, a retired contract cleaner, said as he took a break between running errands downtown last week.

The city took its website down as a precaution but is working on ways to beef up online security and bring it back up, said city manager Cathy Davison.

Davison said temporarily disabled websites are a minor issue compared with the need to address the power of social media to spread rumors.

Beyond that, though, is a more fundamental issue, she said. How could such an attack happen in the first place?

"Why did no one stand up for this girl? Why?" Davison said. "That is a bigger conversation."

___

Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report. Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.



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