COLUMBUS, Ohio – The lawyer for a 16-year-old girl raped by two Ohio high school football players is disputing a prosecutor’s account that the girl’s father initially wanted the investigation into the case dropped.
The prosecutor said Wednesday that she stands by her earlier statement.
The lawyer, Bob Fitzsimmons, said the girl and her family were only taking time to consider the effects of an investigation on their daughter and her mental health, including the possibility of her testifying.
“At no time did the parents request to terminate the investigation and proceedings,” Fitzsimmons wrote in an email to the Associated Press this week. “They fully cooperated with law enforcement throughout all of the proceedings.”
The two boys were found guilty last month of raping the girl after an alcohol-fueled party in August. The case had been furiously debated online and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the celebrated Steubenville High School football team.
The girl ultimately testified at trial, though she has no memory of the attacks. The prosecution was built largely on eyewitness accounts, text messages and cellphone photographs of the girl.
Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin had said investigators decided to pursue the case even after the victim’s father asked that it be dropped, the Steubenville Herald-Star reported Sunday.
Her office couldn’t take the time to wait on the family because evidence needed to be preserved, she said Wednesday.
“We have to collect all the evidence and do as many interviews as we can before the evidence disappears,” Hanlin said.
Hanlin said hesitation by sexual assault victims and their families is common and understandable, but her office had evidence of a rape and had to look out not just for the 16-year-old victim but other potential victims as well.
“So our decision then was to move forward in this case because we felt we had an obligation to do so,” she said.
Fitzsimmons said that everyone has the right to consider the effects of pursuing criminal charges, especially given the negative effects involved in a rape case.
When considering the well-being of their daughter, who in addition to being raped was publicly humiliated in postings online and in social media about the assault, “these parents rightly wanted a little time to decide what to do,” Fitzsimmons said.
The family cooperated with police throughout, said Fitzsimmons, of Wheeling, W.Va.
“They chose the correct path and the criminals were prosecuted and found guilty of rape.”
Even though the verdict is a month old, Hanlin said it was important to address these issues because so many rumors flew early about a cover-up. These included erroneous early reports that her own son, a member of the football team, was involved. Hanlin took herself off the case and it was prosecuted by the Ohio attorney general’s office.
“There were all of these false rumors on the Internet that the police department or the prosecutor’s office had threatened or pressured the victim not to go forward,” said Hanlin, who says she has never met the victim’s family. “In fact, it was the opposite – we were moving forward with the investigation no matter what.”
A 14-member grand jury is scheduled to begin hearing evidence April 30 regarding whether any other laws were broken. They will examine allegations that some adults, including the head football coach, may have known about the assault early on. Teachers and coaches are among officials required by Ohio law to report abuse.