Ohio school workers plead not guilty in rape case
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) – Four eastern Ohio school workers entered not guilty pleas Friday to charges stemming from a grand jury investigation into other alleged crimes spurred by the rape of a 16-year-old girl by two high school football players.
The four include Mike McVey, Steubenville’s top school official, whose attorney promised to fight the charges.
“We are confident that we are going to prevail in these cases and prove they’re unfounded,” said McVey’s attorney, Charles Bean. “This was an investigation that went nine months, and this is all they have?”
Special Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove accepted the not-guilty pleas Friday in Jefferson County court and let the four remain free without bond.
In total, six individuals have been indicted by the rape investigation grand jury, whose work is finished.
McVey and three others are charged with trying to thwart the investigation into the August 2012 rape of the West Virginia girl by the football players. The players were convicted in March and sentenced to the state’s juvenile detention system.
McVey is Steubenville’s superintendent. The others are former Steubenville schools’ technology director William Rhinaman, football team strength coach Seth Fluharty and volunteer football coach Matt Belardine.
A fifth defendant, elementary school principal Lynnett Gorman, is accused of failing to report possible child abuse, apparently involving a teen sex and drinking party in April 2012 unrelated to the West Virginia girl’s rape, her attorney, Dennis McNamara, said after the hearing.
“None of this has anything to do with her job,” said McNamara, who added that Gorman learned about the party second- or third-hand while checking to see if her son had been involved.
Because parents of the teens knew of the party’s circumstances, “I don’t think she had an obligation” to report it, McNamara said.
According to a Steubenville police report, a possible sexual assault of a minor sometime in April 2012 was reported to police on Sept. 3, 2012, after the allegations involving the other girl emerged.
A sixth defendant, Hannah Rhinaman, is the daughter of William Rhinaman. She is accused of stealing school equipment in an alleged crime investigated by the grand jury but unrelated to the rape case.
The football players’ rape of the 16-year-old girl drew nationwide attention because of allegations that prosecutors should have charged more people.
McVey’s charges include felony counts of obstructing justice and tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor charge alleging he made a false statement in April 2012.
Belardine, whose house authorities said was the scene of the underage drinking party that preceded the rape last summer, faces several misdemeanor charges.
Fluharty was charged with failing to report possible child abuse in August 2012.
William Rhinaman is charged with evidence tampering, obstructing justice, obstructing official business and perjury. The 53-year-old Mingo Junction man has pleaded not guilty.
Hannah Rhinaman faces theft and receiving stolen property charges. She has pleaded not guilty.
THOMAS J. SHEERAN
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