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Ohio judge will decide on rape trial venue change

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 7:04 p.m.

A judge in Ohio is expected to rule this week on whether to move the trial of two high school students charged with raping a drunk and unconscious girl as classmates tweeted comments and shared pictures of the incident.

The case has drawn national attention to Steubenville, Ohio, for the sordidness of the alleged crime and for the manner in which details of it leaked out: via social media, which revealed damning photographs, text messages and other communications that helped the prosecution.

The change of venue is one of three decisions facing Judge Thomas Lipps, who heard arguments on Friday from attorneys representing the media, the girl's family, and the accused boys, both 16.

The defense wants the trial's Feb. 13 start date delayed. The girl's family wants the trial closed to the press and public to protect her privacy, although they have not filed a formal motion requesting that. The media are demanding it remain open.

Critics of police and prosecutors say they have not done enough to track down more possible participants in the alleged rape; law enforcement officials and defenders of the accused say critics have been misled by the social media focus on the case.

Law enforcement officials said they were hampered by a delay in hearing of the incident, which occurred the night of Aug. 11. The 16-year-old girl and her family did not report it until Aug. 14 when pictures and videos of the incident taken by witnesses had been posted online and shared among local students. They included images of the girl naked, unconscious or seemingly too drunk to move. The defendants have said any sexual contact was consensual and deny raping the girl.

By the time she went to police, the girl had showered, erasing physical evidence. By the time investigators reached the teenagers who had taken pictures of the incident or communicated with friends about it, many had deleted the evidence from their cellphones.

Some images and words remain, however. One shows the girl, apparently unconscious, being carried by the defendants. One of the boys grasps her arms and the other her ankles.

A video posted online shows a third Steubenville teenager, Mike Nodianos, joking about the rape of someone he refers to repeatedly as a “dead” girl and relating details of the incident. Nodianos, 18, has not been charged in the case. His attorney says he was drunk when he made the comments and was only repeating what others had told him.

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