Judge to rule if Steubenville football players case should be kept closed to public

Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps listens to arguments on whether the rape trial should be open to the public.
Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps listens to arguments on whether the rape trial should be open to the public.

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — A judge will decide next week whether the trial of two Steubenville High School football players accused of raping a 16-year-old girl should be open to the public, delayed, or moved to a different Ohio county.

Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps, brought in from Hamilton County to hear the case in Jefferson County Juvenile Court, heard arguments from lawyers Friday but declined to rule from the bench.

The key argument is whether the trial will be open to the public.

In Ohio, the decision to keep a juvenile case secret is left up to a judge.

Prosecutors with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office told Judge Lipps that the trial should be sealed to protect the victim.

Lawyers for various media outlets told the judge the trial should be open to ensure transparency and “public confidence” in how the high-profile case is being handled.

The players, Malik Richmond and Trent Mays, 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 when the case goes to trial next month.

The girl, who attends a high school across the river in West Virginia, wants the trial closed to the public to protect her identity, as do her parents.

Attorney Walter Madison, who represents Malik Richmond, had also said he wanted it closed because he feared witnesses for his client might be intimidated by the intense media scrutiny and commentary on social media that has swirled around the case.

Mr. Madison, however, said after the hearing that he had backed off that request in favor of a related motion to move the trial out of Jefferson County to reduce the potential for witness intimidation, according to the Associated Press.

The Associated Press is one of the parties opposed to closing the trial, along with the New York Times, CNN, and others. Lawyers for the news organizations said the trial should be open because of widespread speculation in the community that the case was not investigated aggressively, considering that the alleged attackers are football players in an area that strongly identifies itself with the high school team.

Attorney Brian Duncan, who represents Trent Mays, has not requested that the trial be closed but has filed motions to delay it and move it out of Jefferson County.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Torsten Ove is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Torsten Ove at: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.