COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A large following of "nameless bloggers" alleging a cover-up of a rape investigation spurred an eastern Ohio judge to ask that someone from outside the community oversee a grand jury looking into new charges related to the assault.
Jefferson County Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. also asked that outside judges be appointed to prosecute any individuals the grand jury might charge.
In response, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor of the State Supreme Court on Thursday appointed a retired Summit County judge to handle the grand jury, which meets in April.
Bruzzese noted in his March 14 request "a substantial controversy surrounding this case provoked primarily by nameless bloggers making allegations of cover-up."
"These nameless bloggers, while having produced no evidence of a cover-up have managed to assemble quite a following locally, nationally and internationally," the judge said.
As a result, no local officials should have anything to do with the grand jury proposed by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Bruzzese said.
Two high school football players were convicted Sunday of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl in Steubenville last summer after an alcohol-fueled party. One was sentenced to a minimum of one year in juvenile detention, the other to two years.
A special judge, Thomas Lipps of Cincinnati, handled that case, including the five-day trial last week. Immediately afterward, DeWine announced that a grand jury would investigate whether others should faces charges, including anyone who failed to speak up following reports of the rape.
School officials and Steubenville's 27 football coaches could possibly face charges if they knew about the rape but didn't report it because they are among those required by state law to report possible child abuse.
O'Connor appointed retired Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove to oversee the grand jury.
Cosgrove is no stranger to high-profile cases. In 2011, she handled the trial of Kelley Williams-Bolar, an Akron woman convicted of falsifying documents to enroll her daughters in the Copley-Fairlawn schools from 2006 to 2008. Gov. John Kasich later reduced the felony convictions to misdemeanors.
In 2005, Cosgrove convicted a prominent Akron restaurant owner's wife of aiding in the drive-by shooting death of a former lover by the third member of a love triangle. Cosgrove sentenced Cynthia George to 20 years to life following the nonjury trial.
Two years later, George was released from prison after the 9th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Akron overturned Cosgrove's decision, ruling the judge lacked sufficient evidence to convict George.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.