Community divided over teen rape case as trial of football stars opens
A TEENAGE rape case that has divided a small US town has gone to trial after international attention and immense pressure – by activists via social media – on local officials to act.
The rape case has deeply shaken the Ohio community amid allegations that more students should have been charged.
It also has 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.
The case centres on a 16-year-old girl who says she was raped by two school football players after an alcohol-fuelled party.
She was "substantially impaired" and was unable to consent to sex and suffered humiliation and degradation, Special Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said in her opening statement.
A lawyer for defendant Trent Mays said his 17-year-old client "did not rape the young lady in question".
The lawyer for Mays' co-defendant – Ma'Lik Richmond (16) – gave no opening statement.
Richmond and Mays are charged with digitally assaulting the girl, first in the back seat of a moving car and then in the basement of a house.
Mays is also charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
The two 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 Steubenville police.
Hacker activists have publicised 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.
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 interview with ABC, Richmond said the photo was a joke. He contends the girl was awake and was a willing participant, the show said.
If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21. They have denied any wrongdoing.
Dozens of witnesses for both sides are expected to testify at the trial.