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Young killers

Steubenville sexual assault case gets international attention after video goes viral

Sunday, January 6, 2013

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- The story of a reported rape in the small Ohio Valley town of Steubenville that started last summer with the vulgar Tweets of a few teenaged athletes has gone viral around the world.

A recently released video of a teen joking about the attack has added fuel to the story that was first reported by The Plain Dealer in September. A photo of the girl being dragged has also rapidly spread over the Internet.

National media reports and a steady drumbeat of attention by bloggers and recently the hacker activist group, Anonymous, has kept the case in the spotlight, with some claiming that the community is protecting its high school football players at the expense of justice for the girl.

Two 16-year-old “Big Red” football players are charged with raping a West Virginia girl and one of the teens is charged with photographing her nude. They are set to be tried in Juvenile Court in February.

Attorneys for the two football players have said the level of attention is jeopardizing their right to a fair trial and that some of the evidence, such as the photos, have been taken out of context.

Debate about the reported attack divided the football-fueled town of 18,000 between those who supported the athletes and those who were appalled at the treatment of a young woman.

In recent weeks, Internet sleuths such as the Anonymous group, are questioning whether there was an attempted cover-up by politically-connected public officials and football boosters in the case, and whether the police and state investigators have the adequate skills and motivation to unearth digital evidence to charge everyone involved.

As a part of the crusade, they have hacked into the independently run student athletics site, and the emails of the site’s operator Jim Parks and an assistant football coach.

They also have released dossiers on other officials in the town and what the hackers believe their connections are to the case.

Many of the officials and athletic backers have publicly called the conspiracy assertions absurd and say the hackers are unfairly maligning the whole town.

“The outrageous claims they made while controlling this site were totally false, completely absurd, and totally unfounded,” said a message on the athletics site, which is not affiliated with the school district. “They were clearly both libelous and slanderous, and were not even intended to reveal truth, but rather simply to get media attention and terrorize the Steubenville community.”

At Dec. 29 rally at the Jefferson County court house, hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered to support the 16-year-old victim and chanted for Steubenville Head Football Coach Reno Saccoccia to resign.

Saccoccia told The Plain Dealer in August that he was unaware of social media activities of his players or that they were drinking and partying. But he has defended the character of the football players in court, a move that disturbed some.

Another rally is scheduled for today at noon.

The Plain Dealer first wrote about the case on Sept. 2, about two weeks after the rape was reported to Steubenville police by the teen girl’s parents. At that time it quickly became one of the most viewed stories on the paper’s affiliate,

Then in December, The New York Times did a similar story, which drew the attention of members of the hacker groups.

Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is leading the investigation and prosecuting the case, fielded questions on CNN yesterday.

He later told The Plain Dealer that his office continues to gather evidence in the case but will not try it in the media. He warned that not all the evidence being disseminated on the Internet is true.

DeWine took over the case in the fall after the local prosecutor Jane Hanlin stepped aside because of conflicts — her son plays on the football team.

The attorney general would not comment on the scope of the investigation and whether it would look at allegations that adults in positions of power with the football program or elsewhere obstructed or tried to cover-up evidence.

“We certainly see what’s up on the Internet,” DeWine said, adding the investigators decide what is worth following up on.

“Some of the allegations might be irrelevant,” he said. “People can do bad things that are not criminal. We are confined to the criminal law. When we judge what to run down and not rundown, we do it with that reference point,“ he said.

DeWine and Steubenville Police Chief Bill McCafferty have had to deflect online criticism that the case hasn’t been thoroughly investigated in terms of evidence recovered from iPhones and from the Internet.

McCafferty has said that detectives scoured the Internet and saved volumes of information but that not all of it could be used in the criminal case.

A state analyst testified at a hearing in the case that they were unable to recover evidence from Apple phones confiscated from some of the students. Only two photos attached to text messages were recovered from one of the accused football players’ phones.

“We have as good of experts as anywhere,” DeWine said. “Our BCI lab does this everyday of the week. If it can be retrieved we will have it.”

This week, the hackers released video of a former Steubenville student ranting about the victim in the case — who he refers to throughout as “the dead girl.” The girl was apparently unconscious. Testimony in Juvenile Court indicated that she and the boys were drinking at several parties that night.

After the girl’s parents reported the rape in August the 12-minute video was deleted from YouTube, though evidence of its existence was preserved by blogger and social media analyst Alexandra Goddard on her web site

DeWine said investigators were aware of the video from the beginning and they would be the ones to decide whether to factor it into the case or not.

DeWine called the video “disgusting” and said he worries that the victim “continues to be victimized by diatribes.”

The student, who now attends Ohio State University didn’t respond to calls or emails about the video last summer and could not be reached this week.

The video recorded at the home of another student whose party the football players and the reported victim had attended that night contains dozens of distasteful references about the attack.

A few other teens in attendance seem to be upset about what is being said, but others laugh.

The video quickly went viral and national outlets such as CNN and the Huffington Post picked up on the story.

The attorney for the family of the 16-year-old West Virginia teen told national media outlets, including CNN that she is in counseling and is “doing as well as one can expect.”

Prosecutors said she remembers little of the attack and only became aware of its extent through the statements and photos online.

“She’s trying to go about her life right now, which is difficult because of all the media attention,” family attorney Robert Fitzsimmons has said.

One woman who plans to attend today’s rally said she wants to see the culture that allowed the attack to happen change. The woman, who has lived in the area her whole life and was sexually assaulted years ago, said she isn’t optimistic.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “But I’m hoping it does happen.”

Katie Hanna, of the Ohio Alliance To End Sexual Violence, has been monitoring the case since August.

The viral video, in addition to coverage of the rape and murder of a woman in India by multiple men and the failure of Congress to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act all show that we still live in a culture that supports rape, Hanna said.

Hanna pointed out Steubenville has no sexual assault prevention programs in the schools and there is no money to pay for it. Less than half of Ohio’s 88 counties even have rape crisis services available at all, she said.

"With dedicated resources for core services and prevention, relationships could be built over time to address the systemic culture of rape that exists in Ohio and nationally," she said.

Hanna said her agency has gotten calls on their resource line following recent media attention, with some survivors talking about what happened for the first time, as well as others reporting that they were not believed when they told someone else what happened.

"Out of respect for all survivors, the attention needs to be placed on the offenders and on the actions we can each take as a culture to prevent rape from occurring in the first place and supporting survivors when a crime has been committed," she said.

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Impressionable Teen Or Terrorist?

PORTLAND, Ore. — For more than two years, the only image the public has had of the man accused of plotting to detonate an 1,800-pound bomb at a Portland Christmas tree-lighting ceremony is this: A sullen-faced, sunken-eyed terrorism suspect in a mug shot taken just hours after his arrest.

Mohamed Mohamud Trial

At the trial that begins Thursday, Mohamed Mohamud's attorneys will attempt to present a different image, one of an impressionable teenager lured by undercover agents with the FBI, which snared one of its youngest terrorism suspects with his arrest in November 2010.

At issue is whether Mohamud was entrapped, as his defense claims, when he gave the go-ahead for the detonation of what he thought was a bomb at the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. The bomb was a fake, provided by FBI agents whom the 19-year-old thought were his jihadist co-conspirators.

It was one in a series of high-profile FBI terror stings dating back to the Justice Department's directive to ramp up its terror prosecutions and informant network after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Based on pretrial filings, one of the avenues Mohamud's attorneys are likely to pursue is based on an undisputed fact: Mohamud was a teenager when he was arrested, and his attorneys allege he was still a minor when the FBI began to focus on him.

This, his attorneys say, made him much more vulnerable to FBI enticements, and a jury should consider him an unwilling pawn of a Justice Department hungry for a conviction that demonstrates its regard for terrorism as its highest priority.

This, too, is not in dispute: Mohamud pushed a button on a cellphone that he thought would set off a bomb placed in a van and kill thousands.

The FBI alleges in court documents – and backed it up with transcripts of conversations secretly recorded by undercover agents – that Mohamud picked the time and place of the detonation. The high school graduate from Beaverton, Ore., knew the area and knew that the event would be well-attended.

"It's gonna be a fireworks show," the FBI says he told undercover agents. "A spectacular show."

Prosecutors also allege Mohamud "explained how he had been thinking of committing some form of violent jihad since the age of 15," according to the affidavit filed in connection with his arrest.

Mohamud's attorneys have a high bar to cross, said Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School.

"The entrapment defense is really difficult, much more difficult when it comes to terrorism cases," Greenberg said.

Juries are being asked to weigh heavy legal questions of predisposition against more visceral evidence like secret audio recordings of the defendant praising violent jihad. "Once you're accused of terrorism (in front of U.S. juries), you're presumed to be guilty," Greenberg said.

Attorneys from both sides are forbidden from speaking about the case publicly.

For a time, Mohamud was able to live two lives – as a young immigrant trying to fit in, and a Muslim who had become radicalized.

Mohamed Mohamud's family emigrated from Mogadishu, Somalia, where he was born in 1991. He moved to the U.S. when he was about 5 years old.

Mohamud professed aspirations of becoming an engineer, like his father. As a student at Oregon State University, he spent his freshman year studying, playing basketball and partying but eventually dropped out.

As a senior in high school, Mohamud had begun writing articles for an online English-language jihadist magazine called "Jihad Recollections" under the pen name Ibn al-Mubarak, advocating physical fitness for the mujahedeen in places where they couldn't find exercise equipment.

He wrote three articles, including one praising the content and presentation of al-Qaeda's media arm, As-Shabab Media.

The FBI began monitoring Mohamud's emails. In the summer of 2010 FBI undercover agents set up the first in a series of meetings with Mohamud, who talked about a dream in which he led a group of fighters into Afghanistan against "the infidels."

According to the prosecution's version of events, Mohamud's undercover handlers offered him several choices in the service of jihad. They ranged from simple prayer to full-on martyrdom. Mohamud chose a step short of killing himself, saying he wanted to "become operational," according to the FBI.

This, they say, should show that Mohamud was more than an unwitting teenager.

Journalist Trevor Aaronson found a common thread in such sting cases, documented in a forthcoming book, "The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism," which spends a chapter on elements of the Mohamud case.

"(The stings) all have minor variations, but they're all pretty much the same in that they involve people who don't have the capacity to commit the crimes" for which they're prosecuted, Aaronson said.

Aaronson said Mohamud didn't have access to bomb-making materials and, while he espoused anti-Western views, showed no capacity for carrying out acts of terror.

"If you're going to prosecute every loudmouth," Aaronson said, "our courts would be clogged."
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