Judge Thomas Lipps, after motions by prosecutors, gave the 17-year-old immunity from prosecution when he took the stand in Jefferson County Juvenile Court to testify in the trial of Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond on Friday. The boy, a teammate of the two defendants, immediately invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and was reluctant to testify at all, but he was compelled by prosecutors to give his testimony.
The two athletes are accused of sexually assaulting the girl during a night of raucous partying on Aug. 11, in Steubenville, an Ohio Valley industrial town of about 18,500 people. Prosecutors say the girl was assaulted first in a car by one defendant and at least once later in the basement of a home by another. The alleged victim appeared intoxicated and says she does not remember the events of the evening. Pictures and videos surfaced after the incident showing her in compromised positions and, in at least two images, naked.
The witness told the court that he was in the car with Mays and Richmond, and that he sat in the backseat of a car with one of the defendants with the alleged victim between them. A probable cause document from October suggests that Mays was in the backseat of the car. The witness said he took a photo of the defendant inappropriately touching the girl. He testified that he later saw the same defendant initiate sexual contact with the girl in the home’s basement, but when she did not respond he stopped.
He said that he recorded a portion of the incident, but deleted it later because he felt it was “stupid and wrong.” He also testified that not only was the girl so intoxicated that she began to vomit, but that he was also very drunk, having downed between eight and ten beers within a two-hour period. He said that a photo of the girl being carried by the defendants that was widely distributed via Twitter was meant as a joke.
Friday marked the third day of testimony in the case, in which prosecutors allege that Mays and Richmond assaulted the girl, who lives in nearby Weirton, W. Va., while she was too drunk to give any consent to a sexual act. Mays is also charged with distributing child pornography for allegedly texting nude photos of the girl.
More students were also expected to be called to the witness stand on Friday to give testimony. It is unclear what their relation is to the defendants.
On Thursday, the court heard testimony from police officials about what they saw on cell phones that allegedly recorded the assault. Officers with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department testified on the contents of three cellphones that were confiscated from Mays and Richmond. Both are being tried as juveniles by Judge Thomas Lipps, rather than a jury.
The Steubenville rape case became national news late last year after a crime blogger and Steubenville High alum accused local authorities of dragging their feet on the case due to ties with the Steubenville High football team and its coaches. The New York Times picked up the story in a lengthy December piece, attracting the attention of activists including a group of hackers known as Knight Sec, an offshoot of Anonymous, which organized protests and even hacked into the email account of a local Steubenville High football booster.
The two defendants maintain their innocence, insisting that the girl was aware at all times of what was going on and was a willing participant.