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Questions Persist After Guilty Verdicts in Steubenville Rape Trial

Two teen defendants in the “Jane Doe” case in Steubenville Ohio were found guilty by Judge Thomas Lipps last Sunday morning, following testimony given by eyewitnesses who confirmed the athletes used their fingers to penetrate the victim while she was unresponsive.

The case drew wide attention after a group of ‘hactivists’ made a raft of outlandish allegations suggesting many influential townsfolk were in on the rape and cover up, or part of wider criminal activity such as drug and gambling rings. Almost all the criminal accusations remain unsupported, but the online campaign did bring the national spotlight to the case, including calls for more arrests.

The City of Steubenville took an unusual step in response to the increased attention, hoping to show an objective, responsible side of a town accused of favoring it’s high school football stars. A “Steubenville Facts” page was posted, disseminating selective information to dispel rumors.

But questions persisted. Multiple eyewitnesses to the assault were not charged, even after they reportedly took pictures, shared them online and deleted them. Three were offered immunity, and ended up taking the stand where they admitted their part. But many more were not charged, at least not yet.

It’s been reported that dozens knew about the incident but did not alert authorities, a misdemeanor offense in Ohio. Taking naked pics of a minor is also a chargeable offense. Atorney General Mike DeWine has called for a grand jury to consider new charges because sixteen witnesses refused to talk, a veritable blockade of silence.

We learned during trial testimony how nervous participants were they would be reported in the aftermath of the incident. Some suspect intimidation and special treatment took place from on high – it was ten days before local prosecutor Jane Hanlin recused herself from the case, her son a teammate of the accused and her home one of several party sites involved.

The victim took the stand on the last day of the case, becoming distraught when she saw a picture of herself not in control of her faculties. She has questioned whether she was drugged because memory loss seems unusual for the amount of alcohol she was said to have consumed, described as “out of it” from fairly early on in the evening.

City of Steubenville: In Breitbart We Trust
Another mystery involves a posting on the City of Steubenville website, linking the page of a controversial blogger as a reliable source for “controlling the rampant spread of rumors and inaccurate information about this case.”

It’s still there online, entitled “Get The Facts”. They might have been impressed with the blogger’s posts on the Steubenville case, but they either ignored or were unaware that the conservative blogger has an ongoing feud with the hactivist group Anonymous coloring everything he says.

The blogger argues that Ms. Hanlin’s work actually helped lead to the conviction, while skeptics believe she helped pick fall guys while protecting others. Why did the testifying eyewitnesses get immunity instead of plea deals or prosecution? Hanlin’s apologists are saying the pressure of social media, including death threats, “forced” the judge to grant immunity to the star witnesses. Is that how justice now works?

Doubtful. We have already heard complaints of class and race privilege, but “connections” often play the bigger role in small town justice.

What’s evident is that Hanlin did not belong anywhere near the case, even for one day, and that it’s pretty odd to have “journalist advocates” vouching for the coaches and prosecutors without showing why through their research.

This link to a partisan political site seems an unwise decision, but it was questionable in setting up a taxpayer-funded “city blog” in the first place that gives out selective fact-checking while legal proceedings are underway.

We all know the case was already being tried in the court of public opinion, but the “official” endorsement of a right wing activist blogger who describes himself as a fan of the work of James O’Keefe can only add controversy. “ACORN pimp” O’Keefe is known for deceptive editing on behalf of secret wealthy donors, but has been criminally convicted and sued for using illegal methodology.

A Second Case In The Same Basement?

Another disturbing loose end suggests Jane Doe was not the first girl photographed lying naked on the distinctive carpet.

Via The Daily Mail, two different unidentified girls can be seen lying face down, partly naked, in undated photos taken in the same room as the above rape incident. According to transcripts, the images were on the phone of a witness in the above case, along with a similar shot of 16 year old Jane Doe, face down on the floor, arms tucked beneath her and stripped naked.

Per the report, the witness claimed he had never before see these photos, found on his own phone by forensic examiners.

It’s possible the images may correlate to a sexual assault reported to police by a 14-year-old girl who attended a team prom party in April but kept quiet for five months. Deep-digging hactivists claim to have discovered tweets from the time of the incident which convey a similar story of online bragging and misogynist comments.

When Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla was asked by reporters about the April case, he said “The last I heard the girl had recanted and said it was consensual”. This may be an inappropriate comment, considering the case is currently under investigation by the state Attorney General’s office, but the April case may have indeed been “dormant” until the Jane Doe case went under the national microscope.

The media coverage has emboldened others to speak about being victims of assault in Steubenville. But despite the verdicts, recent tweets and warped media coverage show we still have a way to go. CNN is under fire for ‘sympathetic’ comments aimed at defendants, but legal analyst Lisa Green told NBC News anchor Lester Holt the Steubenville case was a “cautionary tale” of leaving digital images and conversations behind, suggesting the perpetrators could have gotten away with it if they were just more careful with social media.

Crime blogger Alexandria Goddard is being credited for bringing public awareness to light, for preserving screenshots that were quickly deleted, but authorities claim they had all pertinent evidence already in hand. The perps had their devices seized by cops as soon as the charges were filed.

The whole ordeal seems like a societal cry for help – the boys didn’t even realize what they were doing was wrong, didn’t imagine the consequences or reaction outside their Steubenville bubble. Going forward, we’ll see whether more arrests are coming, whether other victims will come forward, and whether hacktivists will use the same method of making outlandish allegations to bring attention to cases in the future. But there are also questions about how our digital communications are being preserved and stored. If so, for how long, who gets access to them and under what conditions?

From all I’ve read, the cops didn’t request copies of deleted data from telecom firms in this case, relying on forensic experts to retrieve deleted images and communications from the devices themselves.

But if the NSA is actually copying and storing all communications of US citizens as whistleblowers report, it’s possible law enforcement may request access in the future, to determine guilt or innocence in court cases, for example. For me, this is the critical “social media” question this case brings up, not how stupid some teens were to post evidence online as they committed rape.

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