STEUBENVILLE, Ohio » Two members of the high school football team that is the pride of Steubenville were found guilty today of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl in a case that bitterly divided the Rust Belt city and led to accusations of a cover-up to protect the community’s athletes.
Steubenville High School students Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond face a possible sentence of detention in juvenile jail until they turn 21, capping a case that came to light via a barrage of morning-after text messages, social media posts and online photos and video.
Both broke down in tears after the verdict was read. As Richmond’s lawyer addressed the judge, he paused for a moment to comfort his client, whose sobs could be heard throughout the courtroom.
Mays, 17, and Richmond, 16, were charged with digitally penetrating the West Virginia girl, first in the back seat of a moving car after an alcohol-fueled party on Aug. 11, and then in the basement of a house. Mays was also found guilty on a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
The case roiled 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 a pride in a community of 18,000 that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the steel industry. Their arms linked, protesters stood outside the courthouse Sunday morning awaiting the verdict, some wearing masks.
The trial opened last week as 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 testimony from witnesses that would indicate that the girl, though drunk, knew what she was doing.
The teenage girl testified Saturday that she could not recall what happened the night of the attack but remembered waking up naked in a strange house after drinking at a party. The girl said she recalled drinking, leaving the party holding hands with Mays and throwing up later. When she woke up, she said she discovered 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."
The girl said she believed she was assaulted when she later read text messages among friends and saw a photo of herself taken that night, along with a video that made fun of her and the alleged attack. She said she suspected she had been drugged because she couldn’t explain being as intoxicated as defense witnesses have said she was.
"They treated her like a toy," said special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter.
Evidence introduced at the trial included graphic text messages sent by numerous students after the night of the party, including by the accuser, containing provocative descriptions of sex acts and obscene language. Lawyers noted during the trial how texts have seemed to replace talking on the phone for contemporary teens. A computer forensic expert called by the state documented tens of thousands of texts found on 17 phones seized during the investigation.
The girl herself 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."
In questioning her account, defense attorneys went after her character and credibility. Two former friends of the girl testified that the accuser had a history of drinking heavily and was known to lie.
"The reality is, she drank, she has a reputation for telling lies," said lawyer Walter Madison, representing Richmond.
The two girls 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.
The accuser said that she does not remember being photographed as she was carried by Mays and Richmond, an image that stirred up outrage, first locally, then globally, as it spread online. Others have testified the photo was a joke and the girl was conscious when it was taken.
The photograph led to allegations that three other boys, two of them members of Steubenville High’s celebrated Big Red team, saw something happening that night and didn’t try to stop it but instead recorded it.
The three boys weren’t charged, fueling months of online accusations of a cover-up to protect the team, which law enforcement authorities have vehemently denied.
Instead, the teens were granted immunity to testify, and their accounts helped incriminate the defendants. They said the girl was so drunk she didn’t seem to know what was happening to her and confirmed she was digitally penetrated in a car and later on a basement floor.
Ohio’s attorney general planned to announce later Sunday whether additional charges will be brought in the case, including against the three other boys.
Mays and Richmond were determined to be delinquent, the juvenile equivalent of guilty, Judge Thomas Lipps ruled in the juvenile court trial without a jury.
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.