Judge rules two Steubenville football stars delinquent

Chris Togneri
| Sunday, March 17, 2013, 12:45 p.m.

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Through four days of graphic testimony, two high school football stars accused of rape showed no emotion even as witnesses and evidence — including an unfiltered stream of obscene text messages and photos — laid out how the boys sexually assaulted an intoxicated, unresponsive 16-year-old girl.

That changed when a juvenile judge found the boys delinquent, the juvenile court equivalent of a guilty verdict. Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, broke into tears and sobbed on the shoulders of their attorneys as family members wailed in the gallery.

At one point, Richmond rose and walked toward the victim's mother. He sobbed and said he was sorry.

“I know you are,” the victim's mother said. “I forgive you.”

Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps, a retired Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge, sentenced Mays to a minimum of two years in a juvenile facility and Richmond to at least one year. The state cannot hold them past their 21st birthdays.

The ruling occurred on the fifth day of a trial that roiled a community and revealed shocking evidence.

Prosecutors said the girl — who lives across the Ohio River in Weirton, W.Va. — was so drunk that she did not remember the boys sexually assaulting her, once in the back of a car while a friend recorded video, and once on the floor of a basement while other teens watched and took photos that they later texted to each other.

Mays and Richmond raped the girl when she could barely move — let alone resist — making her “the perfect victim,” state prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said.

The Tribune-Review does not identify sexual assault victims.

Defense attorneys painted a different picture. They said the girl had a reputation for lying and drinking heavily, and that she was “all over” the defendants during a party. They said she never lost consciousness or the ability to make decisions.

Lipps disagreed.

He called the evidence “profane and ugly.” He urged the boys to take seriously treatments they will receive in custody so they might “take this experience and grow upon it.”

In short statements to the court, Mays and Richmond apologized to the victim and her family. They stayed in the courtroom for several minutes after the ruling, weeping and hugging family members.

Grand jury not done

More charges could be filed.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said a grand jury will convene on April 15 to determine whether charges such as tampering with evidence and failure to report a crime or child abuse should be filed.

During testimony, prosecutors read a text message Mays sent a friend, saying that his football coach, Steubenville High School's legendary Reno Saccoccia, had intervened when rumors of a rape started spreading and somehow “took care of it.” DeWine said that, under state law, coaches are required to report such allegations.

Saccoccia could not be reached for comment.

The case sparked international outrage in the fall when the “hacktivist” group Anonymous published incendiary evidence online, including a photo of the suspects carrying the girl by her ankles and wrists and a 12-minute video of a Steubenville High baseball player joking about the rape and calling the girl “dead.”

The group also published the victim's name when it leaked a sealed transcript from a probable cause hearing but failed to redact her name.

Hemmeter said Anonymous changed the dynamics of the trial, with good and bad results.

Anonymous drew attention to the case, which helped spread word about sexual assault and what constitutes rape, she said. But the group's actions thrust the girl — who was humiliated when the naked photos of her spread online — into an uncomfortable and unwanted spotlight, she said.

“There might be some good (from Anonymous's involvement), but it happened on the back of a 16-year-old girl,” she said.

The victim, who had a crush on Mays, the quarterback, before that night in August, did not attend the sentencing.

“She needs some time,”' said Bob Fitzsimmons, attorney for the victim's family. “She's always felt bad for the boys. This little girl didn't want to hurt anybody.”

He said she is attending school full time, made the honor roll and is again playing soccer.

Troubling details

The victim went to a party on Aug. 11 that was attended by dozens of teens, many of them drinking. She got drunk, left the party with Mays and Richmond, then blacked out.

Her memory returned in the morning, when she awoke on a couch in a basement, naked and confused. She quickly put on her pants, bra and shirt, but could not find her underwear, cell phone, earrings or shoes, she testified.

“It was really scary,” she said. “I was embarrassed and scared, and I honestly did not know what to think because I couldn't remember anything.”

In the days that followed, rumors spread through town, driven by videos and photos of the naked girl.

Mays sent the victim a series of texts. In one, he admitted taking a photo of the girl while she was naked, with his semen on her body. In another, he urged her not to get police involved.

“I'm truly sorry. I'm just trying not to go to court or jail, this is just stupid,” he wrote. “Please don't let them file charges, like I can't deal with that.”

He lamented to the victim that the rumors might get him kicked off the football team. She responded: “The more you bring up football, the more pissed I get because that shows that's all you care about.”

In a town of 19,000 residents, Steubenville High's successful and popular “Big Red” football team draws 10,000 spectators to games on fall Friday nights. Activists and bloggers said the team is so popular that police and city officials tried to brush aside the rumors because it involved two stars of the team. Officials denied a cover-up.

Protesters wearing masks gathered outside the justice center throughout the trial and returned for the verdict. They said they were pleased with the verdict but would not be satisfied until the “rape culture” is eradicated, in Steubenville and beyond.

“We're not going anywhere,” said one masked protester, who identified himself as AnonymousSphere. “That's the thing about us, we wear masks. We could be anywhere. You never know.”

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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