COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The large following of "nameless bloggers" alleging a cover-up of a rape investigation spurred an eastern Ohio judge to ask that someone from outside the community oversee a grand jury looking into new charges related to the rape.
Jefferson County Judge Frank Bruzzese also asked that outside judges be appointed to prosecute any individuals the grand jury might charge.
In response, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor of the State Supreme Court on Thursday appointed a retired Summit County judge to handle the grand jury, which meets in April.
There is "a substantial controversy surrounding this case provoked primarily by nameless bloggers making allegations of cover-up," Bruzzese said in his March 14 request.
"These nameless bloggers, while having produced no evidence of a cover-up have managed to assemble quite a following locally, nationally and internationally," the judge said.
As a result, no local officials should have anything to do with the grand jury proposed by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Bruzzese said.
Two high school football players were convicted Sunday of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl in Steubenville last summer after an alcohol-fueled party. One was sentenced to a minimum of one year in juvenile detention, the other to two years.
A special judge, Thomas Lipps of Cincinnati, handled that case, including a five-day trial last week.
Immediately afterward, DeWine announced that a grand jury would investigate whether other individuals should faces charges, including anyone who failed to speak up following reports of the rape. School officials and Steubenville's 27 football coaches could also face charges if they knew about the rape but didn't report it, since they are among individuals required by state law to report possible child abuse.
Steubenville schools superintendent Mike McVey, one of dozens of people interviewed last year during the rape investigation, said he welcomes the panel's work.
"We will respect the results of that process, and, if necessary, will take appropriate action," McVey said in a statement Wednesday.
O'Connor appointed retired Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove to oversee the grand jury.
Cosgrove is no stranger to high-profile cases. In 2011, she handled the trial of Kelley Williams-Bolar, an Akron woman convicted of falsifying documents to enroll her daughters in the Copley-Fairlawn schools from 2006 to 2008. Gov. John Kasich later reduced the felony convictions to misdemeanors.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.