Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Ohio school rape trial starts
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- A "substantially impaired" 16-year-old girl was unable to consent to sex and suffered humiliation and degradation when she was raped by two high school football players after an alcohol-fueled party, a prosecutor said Wednesday at the start of a trial that's drawn international attention to a small, football-loving city in eastern Ohio.
The first day of the juvenile trial became a contest between prosecutors determined to show the girl was so drunk she couldn't have been a willing participant that night, and defense attorneys soliciting comments from witnesses that would indicate that the girl, though drunk, knew what she was doing.
The case has divided the community 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.
Steubenville High School football players Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond both maintain their innocence. In his opening statement, Mays' attorney, Brian Duncan, said his 17-year-old client "did not rape the young lady in question." Richmond's attorney gave no opening statement.
Both teens are charged with digitally penetrating the West Virginia girl, first in the back seat of a moving car after a party Aug. 11 and then in the basement of a house. Mays is also charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
In an excerpt of a videotaped interview with ABC's "20/20" that was posted Tuesday, Richmond said the photo was a joke. He contends the girl was awake and was a willing participant, according to the report.
The girl's level of inebriation quickly emerged as a key issue Wednesday.
Following opening statements, prosecutors presented two witnesses, 17-year-old girls who saw the girl the night of the party.
Elayna Andres, a Steubenville High School student, said the 16-year-old girl was having trouble walking but never appeared to pass out.
"She went over by the door and she stumbled, and that's when the boys picked her up," she said. "She was conscious but she couldn't lift her head."
The other teen, Julia Lefever, said she never had seen her friend so intoxicated. She said she and the alleged victim were drinking a blue slush ice drink they laced with vodka they brought to the party and her friend later drank a beer.
Jacob Howarth, 19, a former Steubenville high school student, testified about the alleged victim's demeanor at a small gathering at his house that night. Richmond's attorney, Walter Madison, pushed Howarth in a graphic line of questioning to confirm that when the girl vomited in his bathroom, she was able to use the toilet and not leave a mess.
"Being drunk doesn't mean you don't know what's going on, right?" Madison said.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Brian Deckert got Howarth to agree that the girl was "stumbling, with a blank expression, and swaying back and forth."
Under questioning from defense attorneys, witnesses also gave examples of the alleged victim turning down friends' offers of help and agreeing to go with the defendants.
Pat Pizzoferrato, 17, a Steubenville high school student, testified that he was shown a picture of the victim on her knees with her pants off with the defendants nearby. "I though they just had sex with her," he said when asked by Hemmeter what he thought the picture showed.
That picture was never found and isn't part of the evidence before Lipps.
If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21.
The Associated Press normally does not 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.
They were charged 10 days after the party, after a flurry of social media postings about the alleged attack led the girl and her family to go to police.
Steubenville officials have protested that outsiders have unfairly criticized police handling of the case and have given Steubenville a black eye. Officials created a website to counter misinformation about the case, disputing, for example, the allegation that the police department is full of ex-football players from the local powerhouse team, nicknamed Big Red.
Hacker activists have publicized tweets and other social media postings made the night of the alleged rape, including a 12-minute video in which one student joked about it while others in the background chimed in.
The National Organization of Women has demanded that student be charged under the state's failure to report law. Attorney General Mike DeWine has called the video disgusting but said the student didn't have firsthand knowledge of the alleged assaults.
Bob Fitzsimmons, a lawyer for the girl's family, said, "The family wants this matter over so they can move on with their lives and their daughter's healing."