Steubenville Rape Trial: Facts
Her parents worried when their sixteen-year-old daughter came home sick and disoriented. They thought she had just spent the night at a friend’s house. The next day, their daughter had no real recollection of the night before, but pictures, videos, Facebook status updates and Tweets all posted to the Internet, allegedly by her peers quickly filled in the blanks.
There were pictures of her only partially clothed, with athletic boys hoisting her up by the wrists and the ankles. Videos of her naked and unconscious while boys penetrated her. Videos of boys talking and laughing about her, calling her “deader than Trayvon Martin,” raped “quicker than Mike Tyson,” and by more than “the Duke Lacrosse Team.”
There were tweets that the “song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana,” and that she “deserved to be peed on.” There were Facebook statuses talking about what a drunk slut she was.
Her family pieced it together as best they could, put whatever they could find on a flash drive, and took it to the Steubenville police that night. One day later, the local newspaper published an article with even more detail about the events of that night.
The police treated the young Jane Doe with some skepticism. The boys in question were star high school football players, she was a girl from Weirton, West Virginia, a town across the river. She told the police she was drugged and raped. The police told her that too much time had passed for her to take a toxicology test and that the shower she had taken meant they could not do a rape examination.
Without physical evidence, and without Jane Doe’s independent recollection of events, all the police really had to go on was social media – but there was a lot of that. It seemed like every kid in the county had been partying that night, and many of them left a digital trail.
When the police asked kids to come forward with information about the rape, though, all that evidence began to disappear. The kids who had allegedly caught the acts on their iPhones deleted the photos and videos. Tweets and status updates vanished. Almost no one thought to preserve the evidence with screenshots.
The evidence that remained was bad enough. On the night of August 11, following a football victory for the Steubenville Big Red, the celebrated high school team, all the young people in the town went partying. Jane Doe arrived with friends and quickly became intoxicated, and by 10 or 10:30 p.m. witnesses say she was stumbling and slurring her words.
At the probable cause hearing, witnesses testified that partygoers taunted and jeered Jane Doe while a baseball player dared them to urinate on her.
At some point, members of the football team including quarterback Trent Mays, 16, and wide receiver Ma’Lik Richmond, also 16, drove the now-unconscious Jane Doe to different parties and different houses. One witness testified that the football players carried her out of the house.
One player who is not a prosecution witness testified that he was in the backseat of a car with Mays and Jane Doe. He videotaped Mays flashing the girl’s breasts and penetrating her with his fingers. He shared the video with another person before he deleted it. He took another photo of Mays and Richmond sexually assaulting the girl, which he showed to others before also deleting it.
Video footage from that night shows a naked girl, out cold, surrounded by laughing football players saying “she’s dead” and “I’m going to join the rape crew.”
A week after her complaint, the police arrested Mays and Richmond, both teenage football heroes with bright ballplaying futures ahead. The boys were charged with kidnapping and rape, and Mays was charged with disseminating pictures of a nude minor.
The police did not, and still to this day have not, arrested the other kids who participated in or witnessed the assault. By all accounts, the alleged rape was relatively public. Horrifying videos and tweets reveal that many kids knew about what was going on. Many may have participated. None of those kids have been arrested or charged, and they all still play for their school’s football team.
To understand why so few have been charged with a crime that seems to have involved so many, it’s important to understand Steubenville’s football culture. Steubenville is a small town near the Ohio-Pennsylvania-West Virginia border. As steel mills and factories shut down and the town fell into economic depression, it went from an old-fashioned Midwestern town with good old-fashioned values to a lower-middle class town with a crime problem.
Like a real-life “Friday Night Lights,” high school football is everything in Steubenville, and their home team lives up to its reputation. The team has won nine state championships, including back-to-back undefeated seasons in 2005 and 2006. High school football is more important than college ball to the residents of Steubenville, who start tailgating at 9am for a game that starts at 7:30 pm.
In a town with more abandoned storefronts than new businesses, the team has a gorgeous new stadium that seats 10,000 fans – especially enormous considering the town’s population is 18,000. Big Red games are even televised, and the team’s slogan “Roll Red Roll” is prominently featured on Steubenville homes, businesses and community areas.
“Everybody around here goes to games on Friday nights, and I mean everybody — people come for miles,” said Jim Flanagan, 48, who grew up in the area. “It’s basically the small-town effect. People live and die based on Big Red because they usually win, and it makes everybody feel good about themselves when times are tough.”
Given that intensely pro-football climate, many in the town responded to Jane Doe’s rape allegations with distrust, accusing her of lying to bring down the team or the town itself. Her mother told the media that her family had received death threats from members of the community, and their neighborhood now received additional police patrols.
Nate Hubbard, 27, a Big Red volunteer coach, is one of those speaking out against Jane Doe’s allegations.
“The rape was just an excuse, I think,” said Hubbard.
“What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”
A current player summed up the popular sentiment in a single Tweet: “Were not gonna let dumb s – – – like this mess up our state championship goal.”
But there’s only so far that community criticism can go in the face of what the kids themselves allegedly recorded and shared with the world that night.
Bloggers, crime-watchers and activists have played an enormous role in this case. They have promoted and publicized the statements, videos and images describing the assault. The cyber-activist group Anonymous, known for protesting wearing “V for Vendetta”-style Guy Fawkes masks, has promoted the names and identities of the boys who allegedly took to social media that night, the boys who have not been arrested or charged.
The integrity of Steubenville’s justice system has come under intense scrutiny. Already, the prosecuting attorney originally assigned to the case recused herself because she is the mother of a player on the football team, a boy who may have been present at the parties. The first judge assigned to the matter likewise recused himself due to his ties to the football community. The Ohio Attorney General has vehemently denied allegations that Mark Cole, Anthony Craig and Evan Westlake, three boys who were witnesses to the assault, testified at the probable cause hearing in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Nor have the Steubenville police taken action against Michael Nodianos, the young man in the now-infamous video depicting, for twelve cringe-inducing minutes, his laughs, jokes and boasts about the rape of the “dead girl” that is currently going on. Bloggers have pointed out that it is a felony to fail to report a crime in Ohio.
Online, reports have also cropped up about rape allegations against the players that were previously filed with the police and never investigated. Anonymous and The Blogosphere seem convinced that there is a “culture of rape” among the Steubenville football players that goes completely unchecked.
The trial against Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond began on March 13. The kidnapping charges were dropped, and the case focused on the rape allegation. Both boys spent two months in jail before they were permitted house arrest. The trial was held in juvenile court, where it was governed by a different set of rules than normally seen in a criminal trial for adults. There was not a jury; the judge listened to all the evidence and made a decision himself. This process is less adversarial than a jury trial – there was not a lot of intimidating cross-examination, for example, since most of the 40 witnesses subpoenaed to testify will be minors.
Generally in juvenile cases, names of those under 18 are not publicized. However, because this particular case has been so criticized for being mishandled by the authorities, the judge has said that he wants it to be an open case, to show the naysayers, the cyber-activists and the community at large that the trial will be fair.
The two teenage football players were found guilty March 17, 2013, of rape and were sentenced to at least a year in juvenile prison. They can be held until they are 21-years-old.