Judge rules that Steubenville football players raped teen

Ohio high school students could be confined until they reach age 21


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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond have played for crowds of 10,000 that pack into Harding Stadium on Fridays during football season.

But on Sunday, millions from around the world waited to hear whether the Ohio high school football players had raped a West Virginia girl during a drunken night of partying in August.

A judge's ruling that the two Steubenville High School students did rape the 16-year-old girl brought to a close the case that has gripped the Ohio River town for the last seven months. But it does not end the legal or emotional turmoil that has divided its residents.

Judge Thomas Lipps on Sunday sentenced Ma'lik Richmond, 16, to at least a year in a juvenile facility and Trent Mays, 17, to at least two years. Both teens were found delinquent in the rape, a finding comparable to a guilty verdict, following a swift four-day trial.

After the verdict, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said a grand jury will convene in mid-April to determine whether additional charges should be filed.

"The community needs assurance that no stone has been left unturned in our search for the truth," he said.

The teens were whisked away to juvenile detention, and may be detained until age 21 depending on their progress, Judge Lipps said. The pair will be registered sex offenders.

A number of Steubenville residents said Sunday that they were satisfied with the judge's decision, but others felt like the boys' status as well-known football players shielded them from a more thorough investigation.

Talk of the verdict was peppered in conversation, from the everybody-knows-your-name LaLa's Diner in Steubenville to the musty, trinket-filled Treasure Island Flea Market in neighboring Wintersville.

Flea market employee Kevin Amos gestured to his "Big Red" ball cap and called himself a "big supporter" of the football team and head coach Reno Saccoccia.

Mr. Amos, also the father of two Steubenville High graduates, thought the judge's finding was correct, but that the teens deserve a tougher sentence.

"I'm ashamed," Mr. Amos said. "I'm ashamed of them for the look they gave our town and the team."

Minutes after the verdict was read, protesters donning Guy Fawkes masks outside the Jefferson County Justice Center and Jail gathered around a banner that read "supporting Jane Doe."

"We're ecstatic," a protester said.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who was not directly involved in the investigation, thanked them for demonstrating peacefully and respectfully expressing their views. On Saturday afternoon, he hand-delivered slices of pizza to those rallying.

"Sheriff, I know the county's going downhill, but I didn't know they made you moonlight as a pizza delivery guy!" a man in a truck nearby joked.

"I hope people learn from this experience," Sheriff Abdalla said following the Sunday verdict. "It was proven today that there was no cover-up."

But on Sunday, Mr. DeWine reinvigorated suspicion that the full picture of what happened in August remains unclear. Sixteen people refused to be interviewed, he said, which led some to question the extent of potential wrongdoing. Mr. DeWine said failure to report a felony and failure to report child abuse are among possible crimes to be investigated.

"I have reached the conclusion this investigation simply cannot be completed without convening a grand jury," Mr. DeWine said.

The trial hinged on whether the prosecution could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim could not have consented to sexual acts with Trent and Ma'lik. The defense did not dispute that sexual contact took place but argued the evidence did not support rape charges.

Bob Fitzsimmons, the victim's attorney, expressed shock that the teens didn't realize the seriousness of what they were doing.

"To hear those kids say they didn't know what they were doing is wrong ... it's a real problem," he said.

Social media have played an enormous role, from pictures and tweets that quickly spread the night of the party, to activist-hacker groups such as Anonymous threatening virtual retaliation.

"Any rape is a tragedy," Mr. DeWine said during his announcement of a grand jury investigation.

"I think it's difficult when the victim is continually re-victimized in social media."

At least one local high school has attempted to respond by holding assemblies about the potential perils of social media, according to Beckah Barker, a former Steubenville High School student who said she transferred to Indian Creek High School in Wintersville for a better arts program.

Beckah reflected on the sessions by saying, "Your parents should have taught you that."

She also said she was troubled by the central role athletics played at Steubenville High School, and discomfort with the power associated with Big Red football was expressed even by longtime members of the community.

Donna Rouse, a waitress who has lived in the area for 47 years, said she loves the tight-knit community, even though the former steel town of 19,000 -- located 40 miles west of Pittsburgh -- has, economically, seen better days. She worries police went too far to protect football players.

"It's hard to grasp how this community revolves around football," Ms. Rouse said. "Without [the team] Steubenville would be off the map."

In the courtroom Sunday, an inconsolable Ma'lik sobbed and clung to his attorney, Walter Madison, while the verdict was read.

Judge Lipps said he reviewed the case again in his hotel room Saturday night and Sunday morning, including the thousands of text messages. He said in reaching his decision, he had to consider the protection of society, accountability and rehabilitation.

Though he acknowledged that neither youth had a criminal record, Judge Lipps reminded observers: "But these are serious charges."

The pair were given an opportunity to make a statement after the judge read the verdicts. Trent stood first, offering a succinct lament.

"I would truly like to apologize. No pictures should have been sent around, let alone taken," Trent said.

A shattered Ma'lik walked across the courtroom toward the victim's family but collapsed, sobbing, into the arms of the chief probation officer. He apologized several times but his sobs, at times, rendered the apologies incoherent.

Ma'lik's father, Nathaniel Richmond, implored Judge Lipps to go easy on his son, whom he consoled after the verdict was read. A recovered alcoholic, Mr. Richmond said drinking destroyed his life and that he didn't play a meaningful role in his son's childhood.

He then addressed the victim's parents and observers in the courtroom.

"I hope somewhere in your heart you can forgive Trent and Ma'lik for the pain they caused your daughter," he said.

"I apologize to the world for the bad light that has been shined on Steubenville."

Both Trent and Ma'lik were accused of rape for penetrating the girl with their fingers. Trent also was charged with disseminating nude photos of the victim.

Although the girl's name has been made public, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not identify accusers in sex crimes.

The judge ordered the defendants to be taken immediately to the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility north of Columbus, where they will undergo an assessment for future placement. The Department of Youth Services will determine where the teens are placed and how long they will stay based on their progress, Judge Lipps said.

Neither Trent nor Ma'lik is permitted to have contact with the victim until age 21, when they will be out of the juvenile system.

Mr. Amos, the flea market employee, said he believes the Big Red team can recover in time. But only with Coach Saccoccia at the helm, who Mr. Amos said has helped numerous kids in the community, even taking some into his own home.

But asked if there was some failure in mentoring the players, Mr. Amos said, "I think there was a lack of it, yeah."


Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the building outside which people in Guy Fawkes masks protested. It is the Jefferson County Justice Center and Jail. (Published March 19, 2013) mobilehome - nation - region - hsfootball

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede. Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman. First Published March 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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