The Times West Virginian

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March 17, 2013

Ohio school rape trial closing; verdict Sunday

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — The accuser in the rape trial of two Ohio high school football players testified Saturday as the trial neared an end that she recalled drinking at a party last summer but could not remember what had happened when she awoke the next day naked in a strange house.

Testimony in the four-day nonjury trial against Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond ended after the judge heard from the 16-old West Virginia girl and others in the juvenile court case. Judge Thomas Lipps said he would announce a decision Sunday.

If found delinquent — the juvenile court equivalent of guilty — the two defendants could be held in juvenile jail until they turn 21, when they would be released.

Mays, 17, and Richmond, 16, are charged with digitally penetrating the girl, first in a car and then in the basement of a house, while out partying Aug. 12. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. They maintain their innocence.

The case has riveted the small city of Steubenville amid allegations that more students should have been charged and led to questions about the influence of the local football team, a source of pride in a community that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the steel industry.

The allegations were huge locally for weeks, then became the focus of Internet attention in the fall after hacker activists and bloggers began publishing the names of other students. Attention peaked again after a 12-minute YouTube video resurfaced in January in which a student jokes about the girl, calling her “dead” and making numerous off-color remarks.

On the stand Saturday, the girl said she remembers drinking at the party, leaving the party holding hands with Mays, then throwing up later. The next thing she remembers is waking up with no clothes on in a strange house, she said. She said she felt scared and embarrassed.

Her phone, earrings, shoes, and underwear were missing, she testified.

“It was really scary,” she said. “I honestly did not know what to think because I could not remember anything.”

She recalled being in a car later with Mays and Richmond and asking them what happened.

“They kept telling me I was a hassle and they took care of me,” she testified. “I thought I could trust him (Mays) until I saw the pictures and video.”

She said she believed she was assaulted when she later read text messages among friends and saw a photo of herself that night, and the YouTube video. She said she suspected she had been drugged because she couldn’t explain being as intoxicated as defense witnesses have said she was.

The girl testified in a quiet, sometimes hesitant voice, and broke down only once: when prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter showed her a second photo of herself naked that the girl had never seen.

Richmond observed the girl carefully as she spoke while Mays, as he often had during the trial, fidgeted, not appearing to focus on any one thing in the courtroom.

Prosecutors told the judge in closing arguments that the evidence was overwhelming. Hemmeter said that includes the girl’s admission of being drunk that night.

“The thing that made her an imperfect witness, that she didn’t remember anything, made her a perfect victim,” Hemmeter said.

Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors hadn’t proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The reality is, she drank, she has a reputation for telling lies,” said Walter Madison, representing Richmond. “When she wakes up and finds out kids have submitted a photo of her on the Internet, she has two choices: saying, ‘Yeah, that’s me,’ or, ‘I was having an alcoholic impairment.”’

Earlier Saturday, defense attorneys went after the accuser’s character, calling two former friends of hers to the stand. They testified that the girl had a history of drinking heavily and was known to lie about things.

West Virginia high school student Kelsey Weaver said the accuser told her what happened two days after the alleged attack then, sometime afterward, told Weaver she couldn’t remember what happened.

“So two different versions?” asked Mays’ attorney Adam Nemann.

“Yes,” Weaver replied.

Earlier, Weaver testified that the accuser was flirting at the party with Richmond.

Both Weaver and schoolmate Gianna Anile testified they were angry at the accuser because she was drinking heavily at the party and rolling around on the floor. They said they tried unsuccessfully to get her to stop drinking.

Anile said she also tried to get her friend to stay at the party rather than leave with others, including the two defendants.

“When I told her not to leave, I was trying to, like, pull her back into the party. She was trying to shrug me off,” Anile testified. “She kind of hit me.”

The day after the party, when Anile and another friend picked up the accuser from the house where she’d stayed, the accuser said she had no memory of the night before, Anile testified.

“’We didn’t have sex, I swear,”’ Anile said, describing the accuser’s comment.

The accuser said in her later testimony that she does not remember making that statement, nor being photographed as she was carried by Mays and Richmond, an image that stirred up the community as it spread on social media sites. Others have testified the photo was a joke and the girl was conscious when it was taken.    

Testimony Friday from three teenage boys granted immunity incriminated the defendants.

Mark Cole, Evan Westlake and Anthony Craig said the West Virginia girl was drunk and didn’t seem to know what was happening to her that night. They said she was digitally penetrated in a car and later on a basement floor.

Cole testified that he took a video of Mays and the girl in the car, then deleted it later that morning. He testified he saw Mays unsuccessfully try to have the girl perform oral sex on him in the basement of Cole’s house.

Westlake testified he saw Richmond’s encounter with the girl in the basement, as did Craig. Westlake also confirmed that he filmed the 12-minute YouTube video, later passed around widely online, in which another student joked about the attack.

Craig testified that he saw Richmond’s hand in the “crotch region” of the girl, a less descriptive version than he gave last fall in another hearing.

If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21.

The Associated Press normally doesn’t identify minors charged in juvenile court, but Mays and Richmond have been widely identified in news coverage, and their names have been used in open court. The AP also does not generally identify people who say they were victims of sex crimes.

———

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

 

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