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Charge dropped against principal in Ohio rape case investigation

By Elizabeth Daley

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) - Prosecutors will drop a misdemeanor charge against an Ohio school principal indicted by a grand jury in November as part of a larger investigation into the rape of a teenage girl that drew national attention.

Lynnett Gorman, an elementary school principal in Steubenville, Ohio, agreed to perform community service in exchange for prosecutors dropping the charge that she failed to report child abuse or neglect, authorities said on Wednesday.

Her case grew of out of the larger investigation into the rape of a teenage girl at a party attended by members of the Steubenville High School football team. That probe attracted national media scrutiny after people in town suspected adults covered up the crime to protect the popular Big Red football program.

The computer hacking group Anonymous had pressed for a prosecution in the August 2012 assault in Steubenville, a town about 40 miles west of Pittsburgh, publicizing on the Internet an image it said was of the 16-year-old rape victim being carried by her wrists and ankles by two young men.

Two high school football players were found guilty as juveniles of assaulting the girl and the grand jury was called afterward to determine if any adults had obstructed the case.

Gorman and four others were indicted on charges ranging from obstruction of justice to failure to report a possible crime stemming from the August 2012 rape and another purported sexual assault of a teen girl at a different party in April 2012.

The Steubenville City Schools superintendent, the district's former director of technology, an assistant wrestling coach and a former volunteer assistant football coach also have been indicted. Gorman's was the first case resolved.

Gorman's charge stemmed from the April 2012 incident. It will be dismissed if she completes 40 hours of community service and speaks to district teachers and administrators about recognizing and reporting child abuse and child neglect, Judge Patricia Cosgrove said on Wednesday.

Gorman's attorney, Dennis McNamara, said during a court hearing last year that his client had learned of a party where there was suspected drinking and sexual activity while attempting to find out if her son was there. She took no further action when she determined he was not at the party, he said.

"Lynnett Gorman believes that she committed no crime," Cosgrove said, reading a statement in court. "She also believes that if she had the ability to go back to April 2012, she would have acted differently."

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said on Wednesday he believed there was enough evidence to convict Gorman, but the agreement provided a better result than a short jail sentence and should not be seen as a precedent for the other cases.

"I felt this was a just resolution that would help the community to move forward and send a very strong signal," DeWine said in an interview.

Ohio law requires educators to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Daley; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Jonathan Oatis)

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