Trent Mays, 17, left, and 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond sit at the defense table before the start of their trial on rape charges in juvenile court today in Steubenville, Ohio.
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COLUMBUS — A 16-year-old girl was “substantially impaired” after an alcohol-fueled party, was unable to consent to sex and suffered humiliation and degradation when she was raped by two high school football players, a prosecutor said Wednesday in her opening statement at the boys’ trial.
But a lawyer for defendant Trent Mays said his 17-year-old client “did not rape the young lady in question.”
Special Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter and Mays’ attorney, Brian Duncan, spoke at the opening of the juvenile court trial that has drawn international attention to a small town in a football-loving region of eastern Ohio.
Hemmeter told Judge Thomas Lipps, who is hearing the case without a jury, that she would show that the girl was “somebody who was too impaired to say no, somebody who was too impaired to say stop.”
The attorney for Mays’ co-defendant, for Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, gave no opening statement.
The case has divided the community amid allegations that more students should have been charged. It has also led to questions about the influence of the local football team, a source of a pride in a community that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the steel industry.
Richmond and Mays are charged with digitally penetrating the West Virginia girl, first in the back seat of a moving car after a party Aug. 11 and then in the basement of a house. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
Witnesses said the girl was so drunk she threw up at least twice and had trouble walking and speaking. She was also photographed being carried by the two young men.
In an excerpt of a videotaped interview with ABC's “20/20,” Richmond said the photo was a joke. He contends the girl was awake and was a willing participant, the show said.
Following opening statements, prosecutors presented two witnesses, both 17-year-old girls who saw the alleged victim the night of the party. Questions by prosecutors and defense lawyers focused on how much the girl had been drinking that night.
One of the girls, a Steubenville High School student, said the alleged victim was having trouble walking but never appeared to pass out. The other girl said she had never seen her friend so intoxicated.
If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21. They have denied any wrongdoing.
The Associated Press normally does not identify minors charged in juvenile court, but Mays and Richmond have been widely identified in news coverage, and their names have been used in open court.
They were charged 10 days after the party, after a flurry of social media postings about the alleged attack led the girl and her family to go to police.
Steubenville officials have protested that outsiders have unfairly criticized police handling of the case and have given Steubenville a black eye. Officials created a website to counter misinformation about the case, refuting, for example, the allegation that the police department is full of ex-football players from the local powerhouse team, nicknamed Big Red.
Hacker activists have publicized tweets and other social media postings made the night of the alleged rape, including a 12-minute video in which one student joked about the alleged attack while others in the background chimed in.
The National Organization of Women has demanded that the student be charged under the state's “failure to report” law. Attorney General Mike DeWine has called the video disgusting, but said the student didn't have firsthand knowledge of the alleged assaults.
Bob Fitzsimmons, a lawyer for the girl's family, said, “The family wants this matter over so they can move on with their lives and their daughter's healing.”
Dozens of witnesses for both sides were expected to testify at the trial. Their testimony is considered crucial because the girl was severely intoxicated that night and appeared to be passed out at times, according to several witnesses.