STEUBENVILLE, Ohio » A teenager was granted immunity from prosecution today before testifying he saw a friend perform a sexual act on a 16-year-old girl after a party in eastern Ohio last summer.
The judge granted Mark Cole immunity today in juvenile court before he testified at the trial of two high school football players charged with raping the West Virginia girl. Cole initially had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against testifying for fear of self-incrimination.
Testimony from Cole and two other teenage boys who watched the alleged attacks is a crucial part of the state’s evidence because the girl says she doesn’t remember what happened. Two of the boys took video and photos of the alleged attacks, then later deleted them.
Cole, 17, testified that he watched defendant Trent Mays digitally penetrate the girl in a car early in the morning of Aug. 12. He said he filmed Mays doing it but then deleted it, prompting a prosecutor to ask why.
"It was one of those moments when you realize you did something stupid and wrong that night, so I deleted it," Cole replied.
Cole testified he saw Mays unsuccessfully try to have the girl perform oral sex on him later that night in the basement of Cole’s house. Cole also testified that the alleged victim was intoxicated and slurring her words.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Walter Madison suggested that the alleged victim was behaving no differently than anyone else the night of the party.
Madison, who represents defendant Ma’Lik Richmond, suggested that Cole was remembering events differently because so much attention was now being paid to what happened. Cole agreed with Madison’s suggestions.
Mays, 17, and Richmond, 16, are charged with digitally penetrating the girl, first in the car and then in the basement of a house. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. The two maintain their innocence.
Prosecutors insist the girl was too drunk to consent to sex, while defense attorneys have portrayed her as someone who was intoxicated but still in control of her actions.
On Thursday, prosecutors introduced graphic text messages in which Mays gave differing accounts of what happened between him and the girl.
In the messages, the girl begged a friend for information about the night, saying she had no memory of the evening and feared she might have been drugged.
"Swear to God I don’t remember doing anything with them," the girl wrote to the friend who authorities say saw the assaults.
"I wasn’t being a slut. They were taking advantage of me," she also wrote to the same boy.
The texts also included ones in which Mays admitted that he digitally penetrated the girl. In other messages, he told friends he’d participated in a different, mutual sex act with the girl.
He also sent messages to his friends to try to get them to gloss over what happened that night. In a text to a boy who lives in the house where the second attack is said to have happened, Mays wrote, "Just say she came to your house and passed out."
Special Judge Thomas Lipps is hearing the case without a jury.
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 a pride in a community that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the steel industry.
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.