Ohio sheriff confronts protesters in football rape case

A crowd of about 1,000 people in Steubenville, Ohio, who were protesting the handling of a rape case involving two high school football players, were confronted by a county sheriff Saturday. Sheriff Fred Abdalla told the protesters no more suspects would be charged in the case.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A county sheriff under fire for how he has handled a high school rape investigation faced down a raucous crowd of protesters on Saturday and said no further suspects would be charged in a case that has rattled Ohio football country.

Ma'lik Richmond and Trenton Mays, both 16 and members of the Steubenville High School football team, are charged with raping a 16-year-old fellow student at a party last August, according to statements from their attorneys.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, accused of shielding the popular football program from a more rigorous investigation, told reporters no one else would be charged in the case, just moments after he addressed about 1,000 protesters gathered in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

"I'm not going to stand here and try to convince you that I'm not the bad guy," he said to a chorus of boos. "You've already made your minds up."

The "Occupy Steubenville" rally was organized by the online activist group Anonymous.

Abdalla declined to take the investigation over from Steubenville police, sparking more public outrage. Anonymous and community leaders say police are avoiding charging more of those involved to protect the school's beloved football program.

Ohio football players rape: Protesters gathered in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio, January 5, 2013. IMAGEReuters: Drew Singer

The two students will be tried as juveniles in February in Steubenville, a close-knit city of 19,000 about 40 miles west of Pittsburgh.

Authorities investigating the rape accusations launched a website Saturday intended to sort fact from fiction after hacker activists spurred interest in the case.

The site, sponsored by the city of Steubenville and police officials, has the appearance of a legal briefing, with black type on a white background, providing an intentional departure from escalating emotions over the case and how it's been handled.

"This site is not designed to be a forum for how the Juvenile Court ought to rule in this matter," the site declares.

The website provides a timeline of the case, summaries of Ohio laws that affect sex charges, online posts and reaction to them, facts about the local police force and a pledge of transparency.

One aim of the website, City Manager Cathy Davison said, is to combat a common perception that Steubenville High School — home of the "Big Red" sports program — controls politics in a small city where special prosecutors and a visiting judge are handling the case because local authorities knew people involved with the football team.

Ohio football player rape case: Activists from the online group Anonymous rally at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. IMAGEAP Photo: Steubenville Herald-Star, Michael D. McElwain

"When people are saying that our police department did not follow procedure, that the football team runs the city, that is not the case," Davison said. "They went by the book. Everything was handled in an above-board fashion to make sure that the case can benefit from the fullest extent of the law."

Public interest in the case increased this week with circulation online of an unverified video, more than 12 minutes long, that purportedly shows another young man joking about the accuser. The video apparently was released by hackers who allege more people were involved and should be held accountable.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has called the posting "despicable" but said it didn't constitute new evidence for local investigators, who were aware of it before the posting.

As investigation continues, it has spurred heated commentary online. Some support the defendants and question the character of the teenage girl, while others allege a cover-up or contend more people should be charged.

The latter group includes hacker-activists associating under the Anonymous and KnightSec labels who point to comments they say were posted around the time of the alleged attack on social media by people who are not charged.

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