On October 12, 2012, three Steubenville High School students testified in a hearing to determine if rape charges would continue against two of their classmates.
The witnesses gave graphic testimony in which they admitted to not only viewing the rape in progress, but also to filming and taking pictures of the rape.
One of the witnesses admitted to using his car to transport the rapists and the victim to his house, filming the rapists violating the victim in his car and then watching the rape occur in his own house without taking any actions to stop the assault or report it to an adult or to authorities.
Why, you might wonder, would these witnesses provide such self-incriminating evidence in court? Why would they admit to distributing pictures of a naked juvenile and to not reporting a felony – both of which are crimes in Ohio?
The answer is simple: Attorney General Mike DeWine told the witnesses they had not committed a crime and promised not to prosecute them.
These promises came in the form of letters, sent in late September and early October of 2012 to each of the three witnesses’s lawyers, stating:
“Although your client may not have conducted himself in a responsible or appropriate manner, his behavior did not rise to the level of any criminal conduct. Therefore, we will not prosecute your client for his actions on August 11, 2012.”
As we’ve discussed multiple times, DeWine clearly did not understand Ohio law when he claimed these three witnesses had not engaged in criminal conduct. Into January and beyond, DeWine continued to claim that not reporting a rape was not a crime.
He also claimed again and again that he did not make a deal with any of the witnesses. “We’ve made no deals with anyone,” said DeWine on January 9th. Attorneys for the defendants insisted a deal had been struck.
The letters appear to show that DeWine’s office did meet with the witnesses and did, in fact, make some sort of deal with them. It’s unclear why DeWine then told the media about the deals
“It’s very, very unusual” Akron-area attorney James Burdon told the Plain Dealer. “I can never remember a time that a witness or a person that I represented got a letter that said that their conduct did not rise to a level of a criminal violation.”
As DeWine assembles a grand jury to look into further crimes associated with the rape in Steubenville it’s important to remember that the most egregious crimes, besides the rape itself, were committed by the three witnesses DeWine cavalierly let off the hook before the trial even started. And it seems very likely the witnesses received this deal because Mike DeWine did not clearly understand Ohio law.
DeWine’s letters are included below.