Ohio teens guilty of rape, face year-plus in jail

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AP Legal Affairs Writer Published:

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- A judge on Sunday convicted two members of Steubenville's celebrated high school football team of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl, concluding a months-long ordeal for the victim and the accused, even though the case is far from over for the community.

Ohio's attorney general immediately announced he's investigating whether coaches, parents or other students broke the law by refusing to speak up. Among those his office has interviewed: revered head coach Reno Saccoccia and the owners of one of the houses where a party was held the night of the rape.

The case shocked many in this Rust Belt city because of the seeming callousness with which other students took out their cellphones to record the attack and gossiped about it online.

"Many of the things we learned during this trial that our children were saying and doing were profane, were ugly," said Special Judge Thomas Lipps. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the tragedy of rape was compounded by social media attacks on the girl.

Steubenville High School students Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond were sentenced to at least a year in juvenile prison, capping a case that came to light via a barrage of morning-after text messages, social media posts and online photos and video. Mays was sentenced to an additional year in prison on a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, to be served after his rape sentence is completed.

The judge planned to subtract about two months for time the teens served in jail last fall.

The two teens broke down in tears after the verdict was read and prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter spoke of their lack of remorse. They later apologized to the victim and to the community. Both were emotional as they spoke, and Richmond struggled at times to talk through his sobs.

"My life is over," Richmond said as he collapsed in the arms of his attorney after the verdict was announced. Later, he crossed the room to talk to relatives of the girl and her parish priest, but needed help from a court official as he struggled to compose himself.

Richmond's father, Nathaniel, an ex-offender who blamed his own problems on alcohol, also asked that the victim's family "forgive Malik and Trent for the pain they put you through." Mays' father, Brian, also apologized for his son's actions.

"We would respectfully request that the community be supportive of not only the family of the young lady, but also the families of the young men who have been sentenced," Mays' attorneys said afterward.

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.

The case roiled the community amid allegations that more students should have been charged -- accusations that Ohio's attorney general pledged on Sunday to look into -- and led to questions from a much wider audience online 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.

Protesters who sought guilty verdicts stood outside the courthouse Sunday morning, their arms linked, some wearing masks. Later, prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter criticized the efforts by the hacker collective Anonymous to publicize the case, saying the extra attention led to a chilling effect on those willing to testify.

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," Hemmeter said.

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 hundreds of thousands of texts found on 17 phones seized during the investigation.

In sentencing the boys, Lipps urged everyone who had witnessed what happened in the case, including parents, "to have discussions about how you talk to your friends, how you record things on the social media so prevalent today and how you conduct yourself when drinking is put upon you by your friends."

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 she was drinking heavily that night, had a history of doing so and was known to lie.

"The reality is, she drank, she has a reputation for telling lies," said lawyer Walter Madison, representing Richmond.

The accuser said that she does not remember being photographed as she was carried by Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond, an image that stirred up outrage, first locally, then globally, as it spread online. Others testified the photo was a joke and the girl was conscious when it was taken.

After the trial, the accuser'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.

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 themselves.

None of them were 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 assaulted.

After Mays and Richmond were taken into custody Sunday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he planned to convene a grand jury next month to investigate whether anyone else should be charged in the case.

Noting that 16 people refused to talk to investigators, many of them underage, DeWine said possible crimes to be investigated include failure to report a felony and failure to report child abuse.

Among the people interviewed were the owners of one of the houses where parties were held that night, and the school district superintendent, the high school principal, and the football team's 27 coaches, many of them volunteers.

Text messages introduced at trial implied that the team's head coach was aware of the rape allegation early on. DeWine said coaches are among officials required by state law to report child abuse.

The grand jury will also examine a rape allegation from April that DeWine previously said he was looking into.

"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.

Mays and Richmond were determined to be delinquent, the juvenile equivalent of guilty, Lipps ruled in the juvenile court trial without a jury.

The length of their sentence beyond the minimum one year will be determined by juvenile authorities; they can be held until they're 21. Lipps said that "as bad as things have been for all of the children involved in this case, they can all change their lives for the better."

The accuser's mother echoed that, saying the case "does not define who my daughter is. She will persevere, grow and move on."

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.