Ohio officials deny they tried to cover up a crime to protect high school football players. NBC's Brian Mooar reports.
A teenager shown crudely joking in a video about an alleged rape and kidnapping in Steubenville, Ohio, wasn't present during the incidents and isn't under investigation in the case, his attorney said Monday.
The video was briefly posted in August, and a version resurfaced last week, renewing national attention on the case, in which two members of the Steubenville High School football team face a joint trial beginning Feb. 13 on rape charges.
Police say they raped a 16-year-old girl and kidnapped her by taking her to several parties while she was too drunk to resist; the football players' attorneys have denied the charges, contending that the girl was conscious and able to consent.
In the video, the young man repeatedly refers to the accuser as "dead" and compares her to famous dead people. The word "rape" is used several times.
Dennis McNamara of Columbus, Ohio, the attorney for the young man in the video, described it as "disgusting" and "insensitive," but he said the young man wasn't responsible for having posted it online. The version of the video that was posted last week included a picture of the alleged victim, which McNamara said wasn't in the original and that his client didn't add.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla has confirmed that the video was shot at a different location from where the incidents occurred, and McNamara said the young man didn't know the alleged victim. Because he wasn't present and was acting on second- or third-hand information, the young man isn't involved in the investigation and hasn't been called as a witness, McNamara said.
"I believe it is not a crime, but it was stupid, McNamara said. "He's a good kid from a good family who did a really dumb thing" while he was drunk and recognizes that there was no excuse for the remarks he made on it.
His parents "love their son, but they are disappointed," McNamara said. "He was not raised to act in this matter."
The young man graduated last year from Steubenville High School and attended Ohio State University last term on an academic scholarship. He isn't enrolled this term but hopes to return to school in the spring, summer or fall, McNamara said.
Although authorities say the alleged incidents took place at several parties in front of numerous witnesses on the night of Aug. 11 and 12, the two juveniles remain the only people charged in the case. Local residents have taken to social media and crime blogs to allege that police are covering up for the high school and its highly successful football team.
Hackers claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous, the loose international hacker collective, briefly took over a high school sports booster website last week and threatened to release personal information about other people they said should have been charged, as well as members of their families, including children.
But Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is handling the prosecution, has said investigators already knew about the video, and while he called it "despicable," he said it doesn't constitute new evidence.
Expanding on DeWine's remarks, Abdalla said at a news conference Friday that authorities learned about the video in August and stressed that it hadn't been authenticated, saying the person who made it "wasn't even in the same place where the incident occurred."
"He made this video based on what people were telling him about (the alleged incident). This was no criminal act," Abdalla said. "I said it the other day: You can't arrest somebody for being stupid. It was disgusting and nauseating. But you can't arrest him for that."
City Manager Cathy Davison denied Saturday that police were dragging their heels, saying: "There's a lot accusations out there. Bring me something that we can investigate and prove that this happened."
City officials and Steubenville police created a website to answer questions about the case, stressing that Police Chief William McCafferty wasn't connected to the high school. He attended a different school, as does his daughter, it said.
Abdalla his office had been flooded with calls from county residents who said they felt threatened after the hackers posted their threat to reveal more personal information about others it alleged were involved. He said he knew who was behind the threat and that he would be dealt with.
"Say what you want to say about me. Do character assassinations like you do and you're going to continue to do," he said. "But when you start doing a hatchet job on innocent children, putting their names out on the computers and the Internet, on Facebook, I'm coming after you. Simple as that."
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