Grand Jury Could Mean Additional Steubenville Charges

Social media outlets like Twitter and Instagram were critical to the case.

ByABC News
March 17, 2013, 4:54 PM

March 17, 2013 — -- Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine announced Sunday that the state will be convening a grand jury to investigate whether there could be additional indictments or charges in the Steubenville rape case.

"A grand jury is an investigative tool that is uniquely suited to ensure fairness and to complete this investigation," DeWine said at a news conference after Sunday's verdict. "And this community needs assurance that no stone has been left unturned in our search for the truth."

Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, were both found delinquent -- the juvenile court equivalent of guilty -- of the sexual assault of an intoxicated 16-year-old girl.

Both were sentenced to at least one year in juvenile jail and could be held until they are 21 years old. Mays was sentenced to an additional year for a charge related to distributing nude images of a minor.

Attorneys for both of the defendents said they plan to appeal.

RELATED: Steubenville Teens Guilty in Rape Trial

"A prosecutor's most important duty is to seek justice. I believe with these verdicts that justice has been done," DeWine said. "However, this is not a happy time for anyone. Every rape is a tragedy. This is a tragedy."

DeWine said investigators identified people who attended the party where the assault took place. Others refused to cooperate for various reasons.

Additionally, owners of a home where one of several parties took place that night were interviewed, as well as dozens of school officials.

The contents of 13 cell phones were analyzed, which amounted to 396,270 text messages, 308,586 photos, 940 videos, 3,188 phone calls and 16,422 contacts.

RELATED: Accuser Texts 'They Were Taking Advantage of Me'

DeWine asked the Jefferson County Common Pleas Court to convene a grand jury to meet on or around April 15. Evidence will be presented and DeWine said he expected that numerous witnesses will be called to testify. The grand jury does not necessarily mean that there will be additional charges or indictments, but it is possible.

The attorney general also addressed the large role of social media in the case.

The victim, who said she did not remember the assault, pieced together the night's events from Twitter, Instagram photos, a YouTube video, text messages and witnesses.

RELATED: Witness Testifies to Recording Alleged Assault

"This has been particularly hard for the victim and her family," DeWine said. "As I said already, any rape is a tragedy. But, it is even more of a tragedy when that victim is continually re-victimized in the social media."

The case, fueled by social media, is also reflective of today's hyper-connected world.

"The case symbolizes the power of new media in the culture," ABC News legal analyst Royal Oakes told ABC News Radio. "The keys to the government's case came from cell phone pictures, texts and tweets. Increasingly, fingerprints and confessions are being replaced by cyber evidence."

Oakes said that text message evidence can be much harder to explain than a vague phone call.

Internet security and privacy lawyer Parry Aftab said that there is very little social media privacy when law enforcement gets involved. In a legal case, search warrants and subpoenas can be obtained despite cries for privacy.

"Social media is allowing more people to act out and commit crimes than they were before it," Aftab said. "It also allows law enforcement and prosecutors to gather more evidence to help them solve crimes and prosecute them."

DeWine also prioritized the need to educate young people, condemning "cavalier" attitudes about rape and sex.

"Everything that has happened in Steubenville has been very difficult -- very, very sad -- and very tragic," he said. "But let me be clear -- this is not just a Steubenville problem. This is a societal problem.

"What's even more appalling is that crimes of sexual assault are occurring every Friday night and every Saturday night in big and small communities around this country," DeWine said. "And there comes a point where we must say enough. This has to stop."