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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — The trial of two Steubenville High School students charged with raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl will be open to the public, an Ohio judge ruled today.
Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps said it was important to have open proceedings to squelch talk and opinions about the case that have sprouted in social media and elsewhere online.
"An open hearing will diminish the influence of such postings and publications," he wrote.
Lawyers for the Ohio attorney general's office wanted the trial closed, as did the alleged victim and her parents. Media outlets argued for openness, saying transparency is necessary to make sure 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.
He also rejected a motion by the lawyer of defendant Malik Richmond to move the trial out of Jefferson County. Attorney Walter Madison said wanted it moved because he feared witnesses for his client might be intimidated by the intense media scrutiny and online commentary that has swirled around the case.
The judge said moving the trial won't eliminate that possibility and that the local sheriff's office will ensure that witnesses are protected.
Judge Lipps also rejected a motion to have the girl referred to as "the accuser" as opposed to the "alleged victim." He said the state of Ohio is the accuser and ordered that the girl will be referred to as the "alleged victim."
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.