Fri., 11:37am: Warrants executed on Steubenville schools

STEUBENVILLE – Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents are expected to continue analyzing electronic evidence today taken from several Steubenville City School district computers Thursday afternoon.

The BCI agents, assisted by Steubenville Police and Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies met Thursday afternoon before serving search warrants at the board of education offices in the former McKinley Elementary School, Steubenville High School and the Harding Stadium fieldhouse.

The search for electronic evidence started at 2 p.m. and concluded at approximately 7 p.m., and the agents were reviewing the material taken from the school sites Thursday night.

Telephone messages left for Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Mike McVey were not returned.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla and Steubenville Police Chief Bill McCafferty declined comment about the raids and referred questions to the BCI.

Search warrants also were used to obtain electronic evidence from Vestige Limited of Medina. The company’s website describes the firm as “electronics evidence experts.”

According to the website, the company’s vision is “To be the leading provider of computer forensic services for the use in civil litigation, law enforcement, criminal proceedings and corporate policy administration. We are founded on the principals of honesty, integrity, professionalism and the quest to become the undisputed experts on the subject of computer forensics and electronic discovery for the legal community.”

A telephone message left on the company’s answering machine this morning was not returned.

Attorney General Michael DeWine announced the search warrants in a press release Thursday and later said in a telephone interview with the Herald-Star, “the search warrants are in conjunction with the special grand jury investigation in Steubenville.”

“The grand jury is to determine if other crimes were committed in connection with the rape of the 16-year-old Weirton girl last August. Phase one of this case was the juvenile court trial that saw two young men found guilty of rape. Phase two will be the investigation to determine if any other crimes were committed. We are looking at every aspect of this case. I hope people will believe when we’re done we did everything we could to find the truth and that justice was done,” said DeWine.

Trent Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville were found delinquent by visiting Judge Tom Lipps of rape in connection with an incident involving an intoxicated underage girl on Aug. 11-12. Mays also was found delinquent of a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for having a picture of the 16-year-old victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone.

Immediately after Lipps’ decision, DeWine announced the special grand jury would be called to investigate whether other laws were broken in the case.

“The grand jury is a very good investigative tool as well as a very deliberative body,” DeWine said. “It will investigate everything that happened before and after the rape.”

“Grand jury proceedings are secret so the public should not expect any reports from the grand jury until their work is done. Once the grand jury starts meeting Tuesday it is going to be pretty quiet. I expect the grand jury to meet three or four days a week until the investigation is done,” said DeWine.

He said he did not want to speculate how long the grand jury proceedings will take.

DeWine also declined to discuss what the BCI agents were looking for during the search warrant execution Thursday.

And while he would not say who signed the search warrants and ordered documents associated with the search to be sealed, DeWine said it is logical for visiting retired Summit County Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove to oversee judicial proceedings associated with the special grand jury.

The special grand jury was selected April 15 in a Jefferson County Common Pleas courtroom.

Cosgrove told the members of the grand jury that it requires courage to sit on the grand jury.

“Our goal is simple, let you people of this county do what is right. This is not an agenda (of Dewine). Our agenda is not to indict people. We need to get to the truth and if there is a basis to charge other persons. I have confidence in the grand jury system. Our only interest is the truth, and, along with that, what is fair to the residents of the county. We are not interested in having a circus. We are not interested in violating anyone’s rights. We are not interested in harassing and embarrassing people,” Assistant Attorney General William F. Schenck told the grand jury members.

Schenck said the grand jury will hear from law enforcement and fellow citizens and he will allow members of the grand jury to ask questions during testimony.

Schenck predicted there may be 30 to 40 witnesses called to testify.