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Ohio school employees plead not guilty in Steubenville rape case

By Elizabeth Daley

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) - Four adults in Steubenville, Ohio, including the school's superintendent, pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges stemming from the handling of the investigation into the rape of a teenage girl in August 2012.

The rape case drew national attention to Steubenville, a town about 40 miles west of Pittsburgh, after a photo and video that appeared to document the assault of the 16-year-old girl were posted online.

In March, two high school football players were found guilty as juveniles of assaulting the girl and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called for a grand jury to determine if people had hindered investigation into the rape accusations.

A grand jury also examined the handling of an April 2012 alleged sexual assault involving a different victim.

On Friday, four adults - Superintendent Michael McVey, elementary school principal Lynnett Gorman, special education teacher Seth Fluharty, and Matthew Belardine, a former volunteer assistant football coach - each pleaded not guilty to an assortment of felony and misdemeanor charges.

McVey, who was placed on administrative leave after the indictment, faces the most serious charges, including two counts of obstructing justice and one count of evidence tampering - all felonies - and misdemeanor counts of making false statements and obstructing official business. His charges cover a period of April 2012 to November 2013.

His lawyer, Charles Bean, called the charges "baseless."

Gorman and Fluharty both pleaded not guilty to failing to report child abuse or neglect, while Belardine pleaded not guilty to four misdemeanors: allowing underage drinking, knowingly misleading a public official and contributing to the delinquency of a child.

In October, the Steubenville school's director of technology, William Rhinaman pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice charges, evidence tampering and perjury.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Daley; Editing by David Bailey, Edith Honan and Bob Burgdorfer)

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