STEUBENVILLE: Two members of Steubenville’s celebrated high school football team were found guilty Sunday of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl, and Ohio’s attorney general warned the case isn’t over, saying he is investigating whether coaches, parents and other students broke the law, too.
Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, were sentenced to at least a year in juvenile prison in a case that has rocked this Rust Belt city of 18,000 and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the Steubenville High team, which has won nine state championships. Mays was ordered to serve an additional year for photographing the underage girl naked.
They can be held until they turn 21.
The two broke down in tears after a Juvenile Court judge delivered his verdict. They later apologized to the victim and the community, Richmond struggling to speak through his sobs.
“My life is over,” he said as he collapsed in the arms of his lawyer.
The case captured national attention by touching on issues beyond the criminal accusations. Women’s groups said the behavior of witnesses who took pictures of what was happening and joked about the “rape” of a “dead girl” was symptomatic of a misogynistic attitude allowed to flourish in Steubenville and elsewhere.
Some compared the girl’s treatment to that of a 23-year-old woman in India who died after being gang-raped on a bus and tossed into the street last December — about the same time the Steubenville case began attracting national attention.
Outsiders, and some community leaders, lamented the absence of parental guidance and questioned why 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to drift from one booze-filled party to another throughout the night of Aug. 11 until the next morning.
Without social media, the case might never have come to court. The girl, who said she did not remember what had happened, learned about it after becoming aware of online chatter and pictures. She and her parents went to police on Aug. 14, and Mays and Richmond were arrested eight days later.
The crime, which took place after a party last summer, shocked many in Steubenville because of the seeming callousness with which other students took out their cellphones to record the attack and gossiped about it online.
Immediately after the verdict, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he will convene a grand jury next month to investigate whether anyone else should be charged. Noting that 16 people refused to talk, many of them underage, DeWine said possible offenses to be investigated include failure to report a crime.
“This community desperately needs to have this behind them, but this community also desperately needs to know justice was done and that no stone was left unturned,” he said.
Texts reveal crime
The verdict followed days of graphic testimony and eyewitness recollections portraying a night of high school parties that turned ugly, for the girl at the center of the case and eventually for the boys who chronicled the events via text messages, pictures and videos and who later tried, futilely, to erase the communications.
Those online exchanges were key to the prosecution and revealed an indifferent attitude toward the girl as she became so intoxicated that she could barely speak or walk. She vomited repeatedly, once while sitting half-naked in the middle of the street, several witnesses said.
The text messages also raised questions about whether the coach of the Steubenville High School football team, Reno Saccoccia, tried to quash the accusations to protect his players. Joann Gibb, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation who was responsible for examining students’ cellphones and retrieving data from them, testified that Mays texted a friend and told him the coach “took care of it.” “Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried,” Mays added.
Other messages Mays sent from his phone and read in court by police indicated an attempt to craft a story of what had occurred as pictures, tweets, and videos from the night circulated online and allegations of wrongdoing percolated.
“Just say she came to your house and passed out,” he wrote to one friend whose home was where the girl ended up, naked and motionless on the floor with both defendants performing sexual acts on her.
Two witnesses, both friends of the defendants, said they saw both defendants sexually assault the girl and used their cellphones to capture images of it. They were among three eyewitnesses granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying, a decision that angered victims’ advocates who said witnesses should have been charged with failing to report a crime.
One of the three, when asked why he did not try to stop what was happening, testified that he did not realize it was rape. “It wasn’t violent,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly what rape was.”
‘Treated her like a toy’
Mays and Richmond were charged with penetrating the girl with their fingers, first in the back seat of a moving car after a mostly underage drinking party on Aug. 11, and then in the basement of a house.
“They treated her like a toy,” prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said.
Prosecutors argued that the victim was so intoxicated she couldn’t consent to sex that night, while the defense contended the girl realized what she was doing and was known to lie.
The girl, who lives a few miles away in Weirton, W.Va., was described by friends as becoming extremely intoxicated very quickly as she downed vodka drinks. They testified that she rejected their attempts to remain with them and staggered drunkenly away with the defendants and their friends.
After the verdict, the girl’s mother rebuked the boys for “lack of any moral code.”
“You were your own accuser, through the social media that you chose to publish your criminal conduct on,” she said.