With a month to go before the delayed trial of the so-called "rape crew" begins in Steubenville, Ohio, the state attorney general now says he doesn't have enough evidence to charge any of the other members of the "crew" already tried in the court of social media. Despite leaks from hackers associated with Anonymous that fed a wave of emotional blame centered on three witnesses at a pretrial hearing, Mike DeWine, the Ohio A.G. now in the process of interviewing more witnesses for the prosecution, has stated firmly in his most detailed interview on the case that even the notorious rape jokester caught on YouTube couldn't face charges right now.
Here's the first key passage from DeWine's conversation with The Marietta Times:
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.
So there's no chance any of those three will be prosecuted in this case after the rape trial is resolved?
DeWine: We do not have the elements at this moment to charge any of them.
Did anyone else receive such a letter from your office in regard to the rape case?
Those comments expand on DeWine's brief interviews with local media last month, which briefly put those three pre-trial witnesses back in the spotlight as groups like LocalLeaks contended — based on unconfirmed, crowd-sourced evidence — that more athletes and local boys were at fault, alongside the two main suspects in the case of a 16-year-old girl allegedly dragged while unconscious and then sexually assaulted at multiple parties in the football town. One of the three witnesses DeWine is referring to is Mark Cole, who said he witnessed and shot cellphone video of one of the defendants inserting his fingers in the alleged victim in the back of his car but later deleted the video. The other two pre-trial witnesses, identified as Anthony Craig and Evan Westlake, have both testified that they saw the defendants performing sexual acts on the victim.
If there was no immunity deal, and there aren't enough legal "elements" to charge them, could the laws not exist to prosecute the "crew" part of the "rape crew" after all? Their testimony states that they did not stop the suspects, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, and that some of them photographed it. As Jezebel's Katie J.M. Baker points out, "Ohio Law decrees that 'no person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities... Whoever violates division (A) or (B) of this section is guilty of failure to report a crime.'" Now, Craig, Cole, and Westlake eventually testified, but the investigation into the night of August 11 did not move forward until the victim's parents spoke up three days alter.
One of the biggest personalities of this trial, or at least the Internet-fueled fury around it, has been Michael Nodianos, the young man who went on a 12-minute rant making fun of the alleged victim — "She is so raped right now" was just one of several disgusting quotes in a clip that has been viewed nearly 500,000 times on YouTube. In the Marietta Times interview, DeWine addresses the involvement of Nodianos directly, making clear that he was not at the party, and that while the victim has "continued to be victimized by the social media," viral videos do not equal a criminal charge:
The postings that have been up on the Internet - the one that's got 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.
Nodianos sure does seem to know a lot about that party for 12 minutes' worth of gruesome detail, but DeWine seems to be drawing a hard line — for now — between evidence collected by the prosecution and by, you know, hackers:
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.
That would seem a direct rebuttal of LocalLeaks and their partners at Anonymous, who are not giving up on the case as they continue to press for details in what they contend is a sketchy-at-best local investigation in a town they see as filled with corruption and a case full of more people at fault than the two young men who will face trial beginning on March 13. But what's next for the actual case, cold or not? And what about the parents who own the houses where all this underage drinking and sexual abuse allegedly took place? Well, DeWine is a bit more open-ended:
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 ...
Do you expect to charge the owners of the homes where the parties were held?
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.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.