Lawyer: Girl, family wanted Steubenville, Ohio rape case pursued

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The lawyer for a 16-year-old girl raped by two Ohio high school football players is disputing a prosecutor's account that the girl's father initially wanted the investigation dropped. The prosecutor stands by her statement, and said her office had a duty to proceed.

The girl's family was only taking time to consider the effects of an investigation on their daughter and her mental health, including the possibility of her testifying, attorney Bob Fitzsimmons said in an email to The Associated Press earlier this week.

"At no time did the parents request to terminate the investigation and proceedings," Fitzsimmons said in his email. "They fully co-operated with law enforcement throughout all of the proceedings."

Fitzsimmons said that everyone has the right to consider the effects of pursuing criminal charges, especially given the negative effects involved of a rape case.

When considering the well-being of their daughter, who in addition to being raped had publicly humiliated by numerous Internet postings about the assault, "these parents rightly wanted a little time to decide what to do," he said.

Fitzsimmons, of Wheeling, W.Va., says the family cooperated with police throughout.

"They chose the correct path and the criminals were prosecuted and found guilty of rape."

The two boys were found guilty last month of raping the girl after an alcohol-fueled party in August. The case had been furiously debated online and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the Steubenville football team.

Hanlin said hesitation by sexual assault victims and their families is common and understandable. But her office had evidence of a rape and had to look out not just for the 16-year-old victim but other potential victims as well, she said.

"We don't have that luxury as law enforcement officials, because we have to collect all the evidence, and do as many interviews as we can before the evidence disappears," she said.

"So our decision then was to move forward in this case because we felt we had an obligation to do so."

Even though the verdict is a month old, Hanlin said it was important to address these issues because so many rumors flew around early about a cover-up. These included erroneous early reports that her son, a member of the football team, was involved. Hanlin took herself off the case and it was prosecuted by the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

"There were all of these false rumors on the Internet that the police department or the prosecutor's office had threatened or pressured the victim not to go forward," said Hanlin, who says she has never met the victim's family. "In fact, it was the opposite - we were moving forward with the investigation no matter what."

A 14-member grand jury begins hearing evidence April 30 regarding whether any other laws were broken. They will examine allegations that some adults, including the head football coach, may have known about the assault early on. Teachers and coaches are among officials required by Ohio law to report abuse.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus .

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