Grand jury dealt with two rape cases

STEUBENVILLE – Grand jury indictments returned last week against Steubenville City Schools Superintendent Michael McVey and Pugliese West Elementary School Principal Lynnett Gorman point to a mostly forgotten piece of the Steubenville rape case – a separate April 2012 rape allegation by a 14-year-old girl.

That allegation surfaced shortly after the investigation began into the August 2012 teen rape case.

The alleged victim and her mother first reported the April rape to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla in September 2012 and then to Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty.

No suspects have been charged or identified in connection with the alleged April rape, which reportedly also involved students at Steubenville High School.

Ohio Attorney General’s office spokesman Dan Tierney confirmed that language in the indictments points to two different rape cases.

He said Attorney General Mike DeWine asked grand jurors to consider not only crimes surrounding the Aug. 11-12, 2012 teen rape case, which led to the conviction of Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays on rape charges, but also crimes that may have been related to the alleged April 2012 rape.

Tierney said the Steubenville Police Department asked the Attorney General’s office to investigate the alleged April rape.

“When the attorney general announced on March 17 that he would seat a special grand jury to investigate additional crimes, he asked that they investigate the August incident and also the April one,” Tierney said.

He declined to comment on specifics of the grand jury investigation into the alleged April rape or whether the April and August rape cases are related.

The indictment against McVey stems from alleged crimes starting on April 5, 2012, and running through Nov. 19. 2013. He faces one count of tampering with evidence and two counts of obstructing justice, all felonies, and misdemeanor counts of falsification and obstructing official business. The indictment does not specify if McVey had any alleged role in covering up the August rape.

If convicted of all crimes, he faces nearly six years in jail.

Gorman’s indictment comes from one count of failure to report child abuse or neglect on April 12, 2012. If convicted, she faces 30 days in jail.

Her attorney, Stephen LaMatrice, has said Gorman will plead not guilty and the charge isn’t connected to the August rape.

Wheeling attorney Robert Fitzsimmons represents the 16-year-old Weirton victim in the August rape and also now represents the alleged 14-year-old victim. He said teachers and school administrators have a duty to report child abuse suspicions to authorities.

“The law is designed to protect children,” he said. “It is a very good law.”

DeWine announced two other indictments last week related to the August 2012 rape: Seth Fluharty, a wrestling and conditioning coach and teacher at Garfield East Elementary School, on one misdemeanor count of failure to report child abuse or neglect on Aug. 13, 2012; and Matthew Belerdine, a former Steubenville High School volunteer football coach, on misdemeanor counts of allowing an underage person to consume beer or liquor, obstructing official business, falsification and contributing to the unruliness or delinquency of a child.

McVey, Gorman, Fluharty and Belerdine are scheduled to appear Friday in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court for preliminary hearings. The Steubenville City Schools Board of Education has placed McVey, Gorman and Fluharty on paid administrative leave.

The same grand jury in October indicted now-retired school technology director William Rhinaman for evidence tampering, obstruction and perjury.

During a press conference last week to announce the indictments, DeWine said the grand jury’s work is over.

“It’s time for the community to move on,” he said.