Steubenville Rape Trial to Start This Week

Two teens are charged with alleged sexual assault.

March 09, 2013, 3:47 PM

March 10, 2013— -- Two teenage football players are scheduled to go on trial this week on charges of sexual assault in a case that has gained national attention and roiled the small Ohio town of Steubenville.

The two teens, identified as Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, are accused of raping a passed out 16-year-old girl last August. Both have pleaded not guilty in court.

The case gained national attention and sparked intense debate about sexual assault in part because three other high school students, two of them also football players for Steubenville High School's beloved "Big Red" football team, took photographs and video of the attack.

Prosecutors so far have declined to press charges against the boys for failing to report a crime, which has led to widespread protests and accusations of a town-wide cover-up to protect members of the local football team, which has won multiple state championships.

The case has brought intense media scrutiny to the town of approximately 18,000. The original prosecutor in the case stepped down since her son was on the same football team as the teenagers involved in the case. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has taken over prosecuting the case.

In January, the school superintendent ordered unarmed guards to be posted at the schools within the district after threats were allegedly made on Facebook.

Last October, DeWine's office sent letters to the three teenagers involved in filming and photographing the attack and assured them that their actions "did not rise to the level of criminal conduct" and they would not be prosecuted.

A few days after the letters were sent, the teenagers who witnessed the alleged attack testified at a hearing on the case. Football player Evan Westlake was asked to explain to prosecutors why he didn't report what he saw.

"I was stunned at what I saw," he said. "I wanted to get out of there."

The teens are expected to be vital witnesses for the prosecution's case.

Tensions in the town reached a fever pitch in early January when the Internet group Anonymous released a 12-minute video allegedly made by a local high school student that appeared to show him joking about the attack only hours after it had happened.

After the video's release, local residents and organizations as disparate as Anonymous and the Ohio chapter of the National Organization of Women called for the teen's arrest, further straining relations between residents and officials. Police maintained there was nothing they could do legally.

"It's disgusting, and I've had people calling, numerous people call here, upset, they have seen it, one woman, two women were crying, because of what they witnessed," Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla told reporters at the time. "It really is disgusting to watch that video."

A few days after the video's release an estimated 1,300 protestors showed up at Jefferson County Courthouse to rally in support of the victim and call for additional charges against the teenagers who were witness to the alleged attack.

Protesters chanted "Charge them all," and applauded when the victim's father spoke.

"I've tried to show my girl that not all men are like this, but only a despicable few," he said. "And their mothers that ignore the truth that they gave birth to a monster."

After days of being subject to intense scrutiny and accusations of covering up the crime, in January town officials launched a website called Steubenville Facts designed purely to combat rumors about the case.

In addition to laying out the timeline of the case, the website also gives background on numerous town officials relationship to the local high school and "Big Red" football team.

The website also defended the police against allegations they did not arrest appropriately to the crime.

"Steubenville Police investigators are caring humans who recoil and are repulsed by many of the things they observe during an investigation," the website said of police's motives. "Like detectives in every part of America and the world, they are often frustrated when they emotionally want to hold people accountable for certain detestable behavior but realize that there is no statute that allows a criminal charge to be made."

With the trial scheduled to start this week and after a judge refused to change the trial location, officials are again prepping for the glare of the media spotlight to descend on the town.

In a press conference last week, DeWine told reporters that additional charges may be brought against the other teenagers after this trial concludes. He estimated the case would last between three to four days.

DeWine also met with protesters lead by Jacqueline Hillyer of the Ohio chapter of the National Organization of Women, who called for the arrest of the other teens allegedly involved for failing to report a crime.

"The worst thing about the crime in Steubenville and it was a crime, it was not that it was so ugly and horrible and disgusting but that it was ordinary," Hillyer said. "It happens all the time across the state, across the country in high schools and people don't intervene."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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