MA’LIK RICHMOND (AP Photo/File)
by Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An eastern Ohio grand jury has adjourned for three weeks while investigators go back to analyzing evidence and interviewing witnesses to determine whether other laws were broken in the case of a 16-year-old girl raped by two high school football players last summer.
The delay will allow investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation “to continue evidence analysis and witness interviews,” Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said in a statement.
One of the issues before the panel is whether adults like coaches or school administrators knew of the rape allegation but failed to report it as required by Ohio law.
Also Thursday, two teenage girls were sentenced to probation after guilty pleas in the case of threatening tweets sent after the guilty verdict in the rape case was announced March 17.
One girl had been charged with aggravated menacing for a tweet that threatened homicide and said “you ripped my family apart,” according to the attorney general’s office. The girl is a cousin of defendant Ma’Lik Richmond, one of the football players found guilty.
A Twitter message from the second girl threatened the rape victim with bodily harm, leading to a menacing charge. One of the messages was later reposted on Facebook.
The girls acknowledged in court Thursday they “made bad tweets.”
Charges of intimidation of a witness and aggravated menacing were dropped and the two 16-year-olds admitted to a single misdemeanor charge of telecommunications harassment and received six months’ probation, said Sara Gasser, an attorney for one of the girls.
Before Thursday’s adjournment, DeWine had said the 14-person panel would meet three or four times a week with no deadline to finish its work. DeWine has said nothing is off the table for the panel.
Speculation that school officials could be targeted increased last week after investigators searched Steubenville High School and offices of the city school board.
Text messages introduced as evidence in the football players’ March trial indicated that head football coach Reno Saccoccia may have known about the rape early on.
The coach “took care of it,” defendant Trent Mays said in one text introduced by prosecutors.
“Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried,” Mays said in another text.
Saccoccia has not commented and school officials say he won’t be made available until after the grand jury concludes.
Saccoccia is in the third year of a five-year coaching contract and earlier this year had a two-year contract renewed for his job as an administrator in a Steubenville alternative school.
Mays, 17, was convicted of raping the West Virginia girl and of photographing the underage girl naked and sentenced to two years in the state juvenile prison system. Richmond, 16, was convicted of raping the girl and sentenced to a year in juvenile prison.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.