STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A judge ruled Wednesday to keep the upcoming trial of two high school football players charged with raping a 16-year-old girl in the eastern Ohio county where the attack allegedly happened, rejecting requests by the defendants’ attorneys who wanted the trial moved.
Prosecutors had opposed the request by the defendants’ lawyers, who said some potential witnesses had been threatened and could face intimidation or harassment outside the local courthouse.
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Judge Thomas Lipps also said the nonjury trial should be open to the public and media. He set the trial date for March 13.
Adam Nemann, an attorney for defendant Trent Mays, argued Friday the case should be moved to a county with a bigger courthouse where crowds of protesters potentially trying to intimidate witnesses favorable to the accused could be better controlled.
“My big concern is that witnesses aren’t going to come in walking past hundreds of people wearing masks,” Nemann said.
Brian Deckert, a special prosecutor from the Ohio attorney general’s office, responded that witnesses could be compelled to testify by subpoena and would have to testify truthfully because of perjury laws.
Lipps also said the trial would be open to the public, overruling objections by the girl and her family, who wanted to protect her identity and keep evidence that might be ruled inadmissible from becoming public.
A lawyer for defendant Ma’Lik Richmond initially wanted the trial closed, then changed his mind. Closing the trial would have hinged largely on Richmond’s concerns — related to possible witness intimidation — since his right to a fair trial was the main issue before Lipps.
The Associated Press generally does not identify juvenile suspects, but Mays’ and Richmond’s names have been widely reported by local and national media outlets.
Three other students who witnessed the attack but weren’t charged are expected to testify at next month’s trial. The girl attends a different high school across the river in West Virginia.
Prosecutors say the girl was attacked twice after an alcohol-fueled party last August, once in a car and once in the basement of a house. The AP generally doesn’t identity people who say they are the victims of sexual assault.
The case has attracted attention because of the alleged involvement of football players in a community of about 18,000 where the football team is a source of huge pride. Bloggers and online activists also created an international stir by alleging a cover-up and questioning why more students weren’t charged.
Three students who watched the attack testified at a previous hearing, including two who took a video and photograph, then deleted the images.
The Ohio attorney general’s office told attorneys for those students last fall that their behavior may not have been responsible, but it didn’t rise to the level of criminal conduct and they wouldn’t be prosecuted.
The students who recorded the attack were also told that had those images been found they would have been charged.