Blog: Steubenville's 'football-loving' town also 'on trial'

10:38 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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On Wednesday, the rape trial of two popular high school football players gets underway in Steubenville amid lots of community uproar and a town divided.

The two sophomore boys, both 16 at the time of the alleged rape back on Aug. 11, have pleaded not guilty and have been on house arrest since they were charged. The police report was filed just after 1 a.m. Aug. 14.

One of the boys is also charged with transmitting sexually oriented pictures of the girl, also 16, from Weirton, West Virginia.

Although the boys are juveniles, their names have been everywhere -- Trenton Mays and Ma'lik Richmond.

Now Steubenville -- population 18,000 -- is a huge football town along the Ohio River, right across from Weirton. The football team -- Big Red -- is glorified. Harding Stadium is always packed on Friday nights during football season as this town is all about its high school football.

You could roll bowlings balls down its main streets Friday nights and no one would notice. Here, high school football is king.

There are others on the football team who are alleged to have been at the party where the alleged rape took place but they played on all this fall.

And this is where the divide begins.

Some say there is a cover-up as to what happened at the party and who was there. The Jefferson County Sheriff even called a press conference to say there was no cover-up. Some say the football team is being protected.

But what's really strange is that this incident first all came to light on the Internet and guess what has been banned from the trial -- use of the Internet and cell phones.

That's right. No cell phones, iPads or laptops will be allowed inside Juvenile Court. Anyone who wants to post on Twitter or a blog will have to leave the building to do so.

The ban, imposed to help ensure order in the courtroom, may be the first time that social media have been absent from a case that has been played out in the electronic world for months.

Media reports show that the case first came to light through Twitter posts and a photo on Instagram. Then came blog posts, YouTube videos and entries on Facebook, Twitter and other sites.

Both the local prosecutor and the Juvenile Court judge recused themselves because of personal ties to the case. The Ohio Attorney General's office took over prosecuting the case in late August after Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin also stepped aside.

The two prosecutors on this case, Marianne Hemmeter and Jennifer Brumby, are part of the Attorney General's Office Crimes Against Children Unit.

Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps, a retired judge from Hamilton County, will preside over the trial that is to begin at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The trial is expected to continue through Thursday and Friday, starting at 9 a.m. both days. It is possible that testimony could be heard on Saturday, court personnel confirmed.

To say that it has attracted worldwide attention would not be far from the truth.

Witnesses testified at an October hearing that she was raped in a car going to one alcohol-fueld party and again after arriving. Those residents argue that adulation for the football team, one of the few jewels left in a city eroded by economic decline, has fostered a culture that allowed such a thing to occur.

One member of the media who was covering the case last fall was told by a resident "This is none of your business. We will clean up our own mess."

We'll see.

Know that Attorney General Mike DeWine said last week that, after the trial is over, other charges may be filed against others.

If I may digress a bit?

On Tuesday, the eve of the Steubenville trial, Cuyahoga County prosecutors responding to an October appeal by convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell, told the Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus that the Cleveland man is "the worst offender in the history of Cuyahoga (County and arguably of the state of Ohio."

Sowell, then 51, was found guilty in July 2011 of killing 11 women and hiding their remains in his Imperial Avenue home and sentenced to death.

Also Tuesday, jurors in the Akron trial of the so-called "Craigslist killer" Richard Beasley, 53, returned guilty verdicts on the 26 counts of killing three men and trying to kill a fourth. Jurors began deliberating Monday at 4 p.m.

I am NOT comparing the Sowell trial and the Beasley trial to the Steubenville trial. I mention them merely as examples of more "cut-and-dried" cases, though they share emotion and both defendants were adults in their 50s.

Expect emotions to be front and center in the Steubenville trial as teens, now 16 and 17, go on trial. It will, undoubtedly, be covered worldwide. These are teenagers. 

WKYC-TV

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