Ma’lik Richmond, right, and Trent Mays, foreground center, were found guilty of rape.
Published: March 17, 2013
“STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Two high school football stars were found guilty on Sunday of raping a 16-year-old girl last August, in a case that drew wide attention for the way social media spurred the initial prosecution and later helped galvanize national outrage over the episode. The town’s obsession over its football team, many said, had shielded other teenagers who did little or nothing to protect the girl.
One football player, Trent Mays, 17, who had been a quarterback on the powerhouse Steubenville High School football 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’ minimum sentence is twice as long as Mr. Richmond’s because he was found guilty of two different charges.
After Judge Thomas Lipps read his decision, both boys broke down and sobbed. Mr. Richmond turned to his lawyer, Walter Madison, and said, “My life is over.”
Both Mr. Mays and Mr. Richmond apologized to the victim and her family. Mr. Richmond walked over to where they were sitting 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 any more, and embraced a court officer.
The judge found that both boys had used their fingers to penetrate the girl while she was so drunk in the early morning hours of Aug. 12 that she lacked the cognitive ability to give her consent for sex. A picture that was circulated around classmates the day after the assault showed the victim naked and passed out. Ohio law defines rape as including digital penetration.
In sentencing the boys, Judge Lipps said that rape was among the gravest of crimes and that the case was a cautionary lesson in how teenagers talk to their friends, conduct themselves when alcohol is present, and in “how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today.”
On the witness stand on Saturday, the girl testified that during a roughly six-hour period when prosecutors said the rapes occurred that 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 – with no idea where she was or how she got there – surrounded by Mr. Mays, Mr. Richmond and another boy, and unable to find her underwear, shoes, earrings or phone. When the prosecutor handed her one picture of herself from that night that she had not previously seen, she broke down in tears.
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 incident and aftermath.
Through the prosecution’s reconstruction and reading aloud of these messages, Judge Lipps heard Mr. Mays in texts from his cellphone state that he had used his fingers to penetrate the girl, who he also referred to in a separate message as “like a dead body.” In another text message, Mr. Mays admitted to the girl that he took the picture that had already circulated among other students of her lying naked in the basement with what he told her was his own semen on her body, from what he stated was a consensual sex act.
Other text messages read before the judge suggested that Mr. Mays grew increasingly worried within the first day or two, urging a friend to curb dissemination of a video related to the incident. He also seemed to try to orchestrate a cover-up, telling a friend in a text, “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 it would damage his football career – even as the girl grew angry that he seemed to care more about football than her welfare.
One classmate also testified that he saw Mr. Mays penetrate the girl while they rode in the backseat of a car.
Overall, there was far more evidence and testimony about Mr. Mays. Mr. Richmond mainly faced the testimony of one witness, Evan Westlake, another Steubenville High School student, that he 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 filming 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, who testified that she had a reputation for lying or that she drank more on that night than the victim said she had. The girl “lies about things,” said one witness, Kelsey Weaver.
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 did not drink enough to pass out. But Ms. Fromme testified that the girl did drink 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 to 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 that night. 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 Mr. Mays sent to the girl suggested that he was quite 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 on Saturday from the 16-year-old girl herself. One state prosecutors, Marianne Hemmeter, led the girl through what seemed a carefully crafted narrative that combined the girl’s own 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 infamous YouTube video, which she said she could only bear to watch for a minute.
Then, the girl testified, she came to realize that Mr. Mays – who maintained all along that he took care of her while she was drunk and that they had only had non-penetrative consensual sex – had in reality done far more despite his insistences to the contrary.
“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 wasn’t having any more of it, telling Mr. Mays in another text message exchange: “It’s on YouTube. I’m not stupid. Stop texting me.””