Ohio judge rules rape trial will be open to public
Share with others:
The nonjury trial of two Steubenville High School students charged with raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl last summer will be open to the public, an Ohio judge ruled Wednesday.
Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps, brought in from Hamilton County to preside in Jefferson County Juvenile Court, said it is important to have open proceedings to address rumors and opinions about the case that have sprouted on social media and elsewhere.
Bloggers and online activists have accused local officials of a cover-up, asking why more students have not been charged and suggesting that justice has been trumped by the prestige of the popular high school football team.
"An open hearing will diminish the influence of such postings and publications," the judge wrote.
Malik Richmond and Trent Mays, both 16, are accused of attacking the girl after an alcohol-fueled party in August in Steubenville. Three other students who witnessed the alleged assault, but have not been charged, are expected to testify.
In arguments last week, prosecutors with the Ohio attorney general's office said they wanted the trial closed, as did the girl and her parents, to protect her.
Although juvenile cases are automatically sealed in Pennsylvania, Ohio law leaves it up to a judge to decide if a case will remain secret.
Media outlets argued for openness, saying transparency is necessary to make sure that the case is handled properly. Many in the community of 19,000 felt the same way, and the judge agreed.
Judge Lipps also pushed the trial back one month, to March 13, giving lawyers extra time to examine evidence and witness statements recently turned over by the prosecution.
In addition, he rejected a motion by the lawyer for Malik to move the trial out of Jefferson County. Attorney Walter Madison said he wanted it moved because he feared witnesses for his client might be intimidated by the intense scrutiny and online commentary.
Attorney Adam Nemann, who represents Trent, made a similar argument, saying he wanted the trial moved to a county with a larger courthouse so that the crowds of protesters can be controlled.
The judge said moving the trial won't eliminate those possibilities and expressed confidence that the local sheriff's office will ensure that witnesses are protected and the trial conducted in a safe environment.
Judge Lipps also rejected a defense motion to have the girl referred in all court proceedings as "the accuser." He said the state of Ohio is the accuser and ordered that the girl will be referred to as the "alleged victim."
First Published January 30, 2013 5:05 pm