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Rape Case Shakes Ohio Town, Fueled By Social Media And Anger

Ohio's attorney general says his office has taken over the case of a teenage girl who was allegedly raped by two members of a high school football team last August. The case attracted more national attention this week, after a photo and video that are alleged to have been taken on the night in question were posted on the Internet.

Two members of the Steubenville High School football team face trial in the case, which is due to begin Feb. 13. It is not yet clear whether others will also face charges. The photo and video, which describe depraved and possibly criminal behavior, sparked anger and outrage on social media sites after they were published.

"We will pursue justice. We will prosecute anyone who we think has committed a crime," Attorney General Mike DeWine said on member station WKSU. "Thus far, that means two individuals who we believe are guilty of the crime of rape — and ultimately that is up to the court. We believe that this case should be prosecuted, and we are prosecuting it."

A piece in The New York Times on Dec. 16 described how the case developed and how, after players were arrested, it divided a community in which high school football is revered. As The Times reported:

"On Aug. 22, the possible crime made local news when the police came forward with details: two standout Steubenville football players ... were arrested and later charged with raping a 16-year-old girl and kidnapping her by taking her to several parties while she was too drunk to resist."

Since then, the case, and its presence in both the news media and social media, has been marked by images and video that allegedly depict Steubenville students and athletes on the night in question. The story of how those files were recovered — and, we warn you, the graphic and distasteful scenes they include — have been summarized by The Atlantic.

The images and video quickly spread around the Internet and social media, leading one of the accused's attorneys to say that the "right to a fair trial for these young men has been hijacked."

Local police say the video had already been given to the state attorney general's office, NPR member station WOUB reports.

DeWine's office was asked to step in and prosecute the case, which it is also helping to investigate, after local officials removed themselves from the case — seemingly because they or their families have ties to the school or its team.

"Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin has recused herself from the case, as has Jefferson County Juvenile and Probate Judge Sam Kerr," reports the Martins Ferry Times Leader.

"The case has divided the town," writes WKSU's Jo Ingles, "with supporters of the girl saying law enforcement went easy on the ballplayers and supporters of the players saying they're being railroaded."

Saturday, the town's courthouse will be the scene of a rally organized by those who say officials tried to cover up the case. More than 1,300 people have said online that they'll attend, according to the Steubenville Herald Star.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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