2 Ohio Teenagers Found Guilty in Rape of Girl

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio ― Two high school football stars were found guilty on Sunday of raping a 16-year-old girl in August in a case that drew national attention for the way social media spurred the initial prosecution and later helped galvanize national outrage over the assault.

Because the victim did not remember what happened, scores of text messages and cellphone pictures and a video provided much of the evidence – proof as well, some said, that the town's powerhouse football team held too much sway over other teenagers, who documented and traded photos of the assault while doing little or nothing to protect the girl.

One football player, Trent Mays, 17, who had been a quarterback on the Steubenville High School team, was sentenced to serve at least two years in the state juvenile system, while the other, Ma'lik Richmond, 16, who played wide receiver, was sentenced to serve at least one year. Both could end up in juvenile jail until they are 21, at the discretion of the state Department of Youth Services.

Mr. Mays's minimum sentence is twice as long as Mr. Richmond's because he was found to be delinquent beyond a reasonable doubt -- the juvenile equivalent of guilty -- not only of rape but also of distributing a nude image of a minor.

After Judge Thomas Lipps read his decision in Juvenile Court, both boys broke down and sobbed. Mr. Richmond turned to his lawyer, Walter Madison, and said, "My life is over."

Mr. Mays apologized to the victim by name, as well as to "her family and the community. No pictures should have been sent around, let alone ever taken." Mr. Richmond then walked to where the family sat and said, "I had not intended to do anything like this. I'm sorry to put you through this," before he broke down, unable to speak, and embraced a court officer.

The judge found that both boys used their fingers to penetrate the girl while she was so drunk in the early hours of Aug. 12 that she lacked the cognitive ability to give her consent for sex. A picture that was circulated among classmates the day after the assault showed the victim naked and passed out. Ohio's legal definition of rape includes digital penetration.

Judge Lipps described much of the evidence as "profane and ugly." In sentencing the boys, he said that rape was among the gravest of crimes and noted that they could have been tried as adults and faced far harsher punishments. He also said the case was a cautionary lesson in how teenagers talk to their friends and conduct themselves when alcohol is present, and in "how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today."

The trial exposed not only the behavior of the defendants but also of other teenagers, who wasted no time spreading photos, texts and video with what many in the community felt was callousness or cruelty.

And that aspect of the case may not be complete. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said after the verdict that he would convene a grand jury next month to finish the investigation.

In an interview, Mr. DeWine said while it is not clear that more people will face charges, he said some offenses that prosecutors might consider would include obstruction of justice, failure to report a felony and failure to report child abuse. State officials have interviewed almost 60 people – students, coaches and school officials as well as parents – but 16 have refused to speak to investigators, most of them juveniles.

The verdict came after four days of testimony that was notable for how Ohio prosecutors and criminal forensics investigators analyzed hundreds of text messages from more than a dozen cellphones and created something like a real-time accounting of the events surrounding the assault and its aftermath.

Through the prosecution's reconstruction and reading aloud of these messages, Judge Lipps heard Mr. Mays in text messages from his cellphone say that he had used his fingers to penetrate the girl, whom he referred to in a separate message as "like a dead body." In another text message, Mr. Mays admitted to the girl that he had taken the picture, already circulated among other students, of her lying naked in the basement with what he told her was his semen on her body, from what he stated was a consensual sex act.

Other text messages read before the judge suggested that Mr. Mays had grown increasingly worried within a day or two, urging a friend to curb distribution of a video related to the assault. He also seemed to try to orchestrate a cover-up, telling a friend in a text message, "Just say she came to your house and passed out."

Finally, the messages showed Mr. Mays pleading with the girl not to press charges because doing so would damage his football career – even as the girl grew angry that he seemed to care more about football than her welfare.

On Saturday, the girl testified that for the roughly six-hour period during which the rapes occurred, she had no memory of anything aside from a brief vomiting episode. She said she woke up the next morning naked in a basement living room surrounded by Mr. Mays, Mr. Richmond and another boy, with no idea where she was or how she got there and unable to find her underwear, shoes, earrings or phone. She broke down in tears when the prosecutor handed her a picture of herself from that night that she had not seen.

A classmate also testified that he had seen Mr. Mays penetrate the girl while they rode in the back seat of a car.

Far more evidence and testimony were about Mr. Mays. Mr. Richmond mainly faced the testimony of one witness, Evan Westlake, another student, who said Mr. Richmond had used his fingers to penetrate the girl while she lay in the basement.

Like two other witnesses, Mr. Westlake had been granted immunity for his testimony, and he had been attacked for his role in the events of that night and for making a now-infamous YouTube video in which he is heard laughing as another boy describes the girl as "deader than O.J.'s wife" and says, "She is so raped right now."

The defense team offered three witnesses. Two were girls who had been lifelong friends of the victim but have fallen out with her. They testified that she had a reputation for lying or that she had drunk more alcohol that night than she said she had. The girl "lies about things," one witness, Kelsey Weaver, said.

An expert witness for the defense, Kim Fromme, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas, testified that by her calculations the girl had not drunk enough to pass out. But Dr. Fromme testified that the girl had drunk enough to suffer a memory lapse, implying that she could have given consent for sex and not remembered it.

A prosecution expert witness disputed that testimony, saying there was no way of knowing how much alcohol the girl had ingested to make such precise calculations, or how alcohol physiologically affected her compared with other people of different tolerances.

Testimony also touched the high school's football coach, Reno Saccoccia, who had earlier been criticized by some in the community for not doing more to discipline other players present. In the text messages disclosed by the prosecution, Mr. Mays stated that he felt he had gotten the coach to "take care of it" and that Mr. Saccoccia "was joking about it so I'm not that worried."

Another text message that Mr. Mays sent to the girl suggested that he was very alarmed when "Reno just called my house and said I raped you." Mr. Saccoccia has not commented on the text messages.

In the end, the most powerful evidence may have been the two hours of testimony Saturday from the 16-year-old girl herself. One state prosecutor, Marianne Hemmeter, used her questions to take the girl through a narrative that combined her testimony with the text messages.

Together, they told a story of the girl waking up confused, naked, shamed and worried, and then finding out that day that many of her friends had an idea what had happened to her or had even seen a picture of her naked the previous night. Throughout the next day, the girl began to reconstruct an idea of what may have occurred, using her friends and accounts of the night that were posted on social media, including the YouTube video, which she said she could bear to watch only for a minute.

Then, the girl testified, she came to realize that Mr. Mays -- who maintained all along that he had taken care of her while she had been drunk and that they had only had nonpenetrative consensual sex -- had done far more.

"This is the most pointless thing," Mr. Mays said in one text message to the girl. "I'm going to get in trouble for something I should be getting thanked for taking care of you."

But after a while, the girl made clear that she was not having any more of it, telling Mr. Mays in another text message exchange: "It's on YouTube. I'm not stupid. Stop texting me."

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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