STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — The rape trial that concluded here Sunday with the conviction of two high-school football stars has spurred calls in many quarters for expanding — or more aggressively enforcing — the legal obligations of those who know about a sexual assault, or who could be in a position to prevent one.
Now, new charges related to the case might also make students and others with Twitter and other social-media accounts think twice about the tone and substance of their online statements. Two girls, ages 15 and 16, appeared before a Juvenile Court judge here Tuesday morning, accused of posting comments after the verdicts Sunday that threatened the rape victim, a 16-year-old girl.
Both girls were arrested Monday afternoon and charged with intimidation of a witness, a third-degree felony that could mean juvenile detention for up to six months if they are convicted. They also were charged with two related misdemeanors.
Judge Sam Kerr ordered the two girls held in juvenile detention until a hearing next Wednesday after a prosecutor argued that they should remain in custody to protect the victim.
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The 15-year-old is accused of stating online that she would celebrate by “beating” the rape victim. The 16-year-old who was charged is accused of posting a message on Twitter saying, “You ripped my family apart, you made my cousin cry,” and adding that when she saw her, “it’s gone be a homicide.”
Announcing the arrests, the Ohio attorney general, Mike DeWine, said: “Let me be clear. Threatening a teenage rape victim will not be tolerated. If anyone makes a threat verbally or via the Internet, we will take it seriously, we will find you, and we will arrest you.”
Francesca Carinci, the lawyer for the 15-year-old, said her client’s online statement was made in frustration after a long day of harassment that included hundreds of phone calls — from as far away as Britain — after she posted words of support for Ma’lik Richmond, 16, a friend of hers and one of the two football players convicted of rape Sunday.
Carinci said that her client did not know the rape victim and was not sending a message to her, and that she believed her client was being treated more harshly than normal because prosecutors and law-enforcement officials “are operating under a heightened sense of scrutiny because the whole world is watching.”
According to The Steubenville Herald-Star, the older sister and guardian of the other girl facing charges said that the Twitter posting in question had quoted a rap song, and that her family had also been threatened on social media because they are related to Richmond.
Richmond, who played wide receiver for Steubenville High School, was sentenced to serve at least one year in juvenile detention and could remain there until age 21. His co-defendant, Trent Mays, 17, who played quarterback, also could be confined until 21 and will serve a minimum of two years because the judge found him guilty not only of rape but also of disseminating a nude picture of a minor.
Attention now turns to the grand jury that DeWine has ordered empaneled next month to examine evidence that includes allegations that coaches and other students may have failed to report the rape. DeWine said prosecutors would probably examine possible crimes including obstruction of justice, failure to report a felony and failure to report child abuse. He also said it was possible that no new charges would be brought.