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Witness cooperation urged in football rape case

Published: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Students withholding information about an alleged rape in eastern Ohio last summer are thwarting investigators, school officials said Thursday, as the FBI looks into threats to local authorities who are working on the case against two high school football players.

The Steubenville school board also is expanding programs to raise further awareness of sexual harassment, bullying, date rape and substance abuse in the wake of the incident in August in which the two high school football players are accused of raping a 16-year-old girl.

The district said in a statement it is lining up training programs for faculty, staff, parents and students, with "targeted sessions" for student-athletes. The statement said officials were troubled to learn police were having difficulty getting cooperation from witnesses.

"By remaining silent, witnesses thwart the work of investigators which may ultimately prevent justice from being served," the statement said.

Recent events persuaded the board to release the statement, Superintendent Mike McVey said. That includes the release earlier this month of a 12-minute video in which a student jokes about the accuser, with other people heard in the background chiming in.

An attorney for the student seen in the video has said the student regrets the comments.

Online messages have targeted individuals and authorities in Steubenville amid increased attention to the rape charges against the football players. City authorities have launched a website to combat misperceptions about the case, including the allegation that the football team has an unusual sway over the city of about 18,000.

Steubenville police Chief William McCafferty said he was checking work email at his office Wednesday when he opened a message and his computer was disabled.

McCafferty said the email was one in a series he's received from someone claiming to be a hacker angry at others who have been critical of law enforcement's handling of the case. McCafferty said the emailer had been sending directions in attachments for how to get back at the group.

McCafferty said he never opened any attachments but his computer was disabled anyway. The FBI has a copy of the email, said McCafferty, who also has stopped using his home computer for fear of being hacked.

On Wednesday afternoon, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said he was advised of a Facebook threat by an anonymous poster that named his family. The post also included death threats against other law enforcement officials and Steubenville individuals.

"The police who protect them must be executed," the post said, with "them" referring to students at Steubenville High School. Abdalla said he'd provided the FBI a copy of the post, which the state Attorney General's office said was forwarded by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

"This has got to be some crackpot sick individual out there who would put this stuff out there," Abdalla said.

Earlier this week, the district said it was placing unarmed guards at its buildings following a threat of violence that a student received on his Facebook page. The board said Thursday the guards would also be at extracurricular events.

The district and city have been under scrutiny since the alleged attack and the arrests of the two players. Some support the defendants and question the character of the girl, while others allege a cover-up meant to protect the popular football program or contend more people should be charged.

A judge determined after a lengthy hearing in October there was only enough evidence to charge the two students, one of whom is accused of raping the girl in a car, the other in the basement of a house.

Students who testified at the hearing said the girl was drunk to the point of stumbling and slurring her words and wasn't participating in what was happening.

At that hearing, a third student testified he took a video with his phone of the alleged attack in the car, while another student testified he took pictures with his phone of the alleged attack in the basement.

Both testified they deleted the images within hours. Prosecutors said at the hearing that the two would have been charged had those images been found.

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