The trial of two high school football players charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl enters its third day Friday, with the judge granting immunity to a 17-year-old witness who is testifying against two of his classmates.
Prosecutors had moved to compel the Steubenville High School student’s testimony, despite the objections of defense lawyers who said there was no law within the juvenile system on granting immunity in a juvenile proceeding. The student, who testified in October preliminary hearings that he witnessed the alleged rape, took the stand and as questioning began, he immediately invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to protect himself against self-incrimination.
As many as 60 witnesses are expected to testify in the case, including the alleged victim, who was cleared by a judge to testify earlier this week along with two other teens.
Prosecutors claim that on August 11, the teen victim, intoxicated and impaired, was taken advantage of by the two defendants during a wild night of post-football game partying in Steubenville, and that the sexual acts — one in a car while party hopping, and another in the basement of a house — were committed while she was too drunk to consent. Twitter posts along and cellphone images and videos were circulated among Steubenville teens allegedly depicting the girl being dragged, apparently unconscious, around the parties. The images and clips also allegedly capture sexual assault taking place while others looked on. Three days after the incident, the parents of the girl, who says she was too inebriated to remember anything, took the data to police who then arrested Mays and Richmond on rape charges.
On Thursday, the court heard testimony from police officials about what they saw on cell phones that allegedly recorded a sexual assault against a 16-year-old student.
Officers with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department testified Thursday on the contents of three cellphones that were confiscated from Mays, 17, and Richmond, 16, the two teens who stand accused of the assault, as well as another unnamed student athlete from Steubenville High School in this football-obsessed town in eastern Ohio. Both are being tried as juveniles by Judge Thomas Lipps, rather than a jury.
Officers who took the stand Thursday described the contents of the cell phones, including at least two cell phone photos showing the victim naked. (Mays has also been accused of child pornography charges for allegedly distributing nude photos of the girl through text messages.) Through Thursday morning testimony, the officers, along with witnesses who work for local cellphone service providers, testified on the process of gathering the phones in evidence by detectives. Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation analyst JoAnn Gibb testified that 17 phones were confiscated by the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department, with thousands of text messages on them. She found 61,000 text messages on one phone and 21,000 on another. It is unclear if all of the texts are related to the case.
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The story of the Steubenville rape case has taken on a life of its own since last summer. On Aug. 24, a crime blogger and Steubenville High alum began to report on the incident, accusing local authorities of covering up the case and protecting its entrenched small-town high school football culture. The New York Times picked up the story in a lengthy December piece, attracting the attention of a group of hackers known as Knight Sec, an offshoot of the hacktivist collective Anonymous, as well as others. One group of hackers broke into the account of a local Steubenville High football booster, while other groups organized protests accusing Jefferson County Sheriffs of dragging their feet on the case due to close ties to the football team.
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Since then a pall has been cast on Steubenville, an industrial Ohio Valley town of about 18,000 people, now divided over the case and the young students embroiled in it. Some back Mays and Richmond’s version of the story; others believe that far more people should have been charged. The outcry and the national attention has prompted the city government to launch a website, steubenvillefacts.org, to separate fact from fiction concerning the case. “Regardless of the outcome, the case shouldn’t be reflective of our town,” said City Manager Cathy Davison. “Steubenville is a great place and we are proud to be from Steubenville.”