Closing arguments made in juvenile rape trial

STEUBENVILLE – The world has been watching the rape trial of two Steubenville High School student-athletes unfold during the past four days. Now, that attention will be directed on visiting Juvenile Judge Thomas Lipps when he announces his verdicts at 10 a.m. today at the Jefferson County Justice Center.

Trent Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville were charged with rape in connection with an incident involving an underage girl that allegedly happened on Aug. 11-12. Mays also faces a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for allegedly having a picture of the 16-year-old victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone. Attorneys for both defendants have denied the charges.

Testimony abruptly came to an end Saturday evening after the alleged victim became the 28th and final witness in the non-jury trial.

Mays and Richmond face being held in a juvenile detention facility until they are 21 years old if they are found guilty.

Lipps, a visiting judge from Hamilton County, said he would review all the evidence over night before announcing the verdicts.

The case has attracted national and international attention during the past seven months, including rallies by the group Anonymous in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has scheduled a news conference for 10:30 a.m. today at the justice center to discuss the case and the investigation into the incident.

Prosecutor Brian Deckert of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in closing arguments said the evidence in the case is “pretty powerful” and narrowed the information to three distinct areas – text messages, witness testimony and pictures.

Deckert said the defendants in the text messages admit to the rape of the Weirton girl. He explained that rape can be proven with digital penetration and while the victim was substantially impaired with alcohol. He said Mays took a photo of the naked victim on a couch and transmitted the photo to another person.

Defense attorney Adam Nemann, who represents Mays, said in closing arguments that the world has been watching the case because of the degradation of the alleged victim.

The prosecution attempted to prove the victim was so intoxicated she couldn’t have willingly consented to sex. The defense said the victim wasn’t that intoxicated.

Lipps, after a probable cause hearing in October, dismissed a kidnapping charge because the victim made a voluntary decision to leave with the defendants. Nemann said the prosecution makes the allegation of impairment and rape 30 minutes after the victim left with Mays and Richmond.

“The victim testified she didn’t recall anything. We were forced to rely on witnesses put on the stand. Some were unbelievable as to who did what, what the motivations were and who was dating whom,” Nemann said.

He said nobody called the police, the victim’s parents or their own parents.

“Why is that? Are they all bad kids?” he asked rhetorically.

He said the teens involved didn’t know the definition of rape.

Defense attorney Walter Madison, who represents Richmond, said the social issues of the case are complex and technology is outpacing the law. He said the confluence of events came together in a way that never could have been imagined.

Madison said every aspect of Richmond’s life is exceptional, and added that Richmond’s name wasn’t mentioned much during the trial.

Madison said a picture of the victim being carried out of a home by her arms and legs that has been widely distributed on the Internet doesn’t tell the whole story.

“She stumbled and then they picked her up. It was a joke,” he said.

Madison said the victim has a reputation for telling lies. He said the victim woke up the day following the alleged incident humiliated and facing the choice of saying it is her in the pictures or claiming an alcohol blackout.

Madison said there was no DNA evidence collected that was linked to Richmond other than Richmond’s test sample. He said there was no evidence of digital penetration by Richmond.

“The victim wakes up and never says what Ma’Lik Richmond did,” he said.

“No one will ever know what happened that night. Now the world is watching. I know a large contingent will be upset. The law has to rise above all that at some point,” Madison said.

Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said there was appalling evidence in the case and wondered why no one helped the victim. She said the victim was the “perfect victim.”

“They ( defendants) knew she was substantially impaired. It was the substantial impairment that made her the victim. Without it, none of this goes down,” she said.

“Consent is not an issue here. They treated her like a toy. They carried her like a rag doll,” she said.

Hemmeter said the decision by Lipps to grant immunity to three witnesses Friday in exchange for their testimony was the only way to prove the case with a victim who was drunk and couldn’t remember.

She said Mark Cole and Evan Westlake had to testify against friends about the digital penetrations. Cole said he took a video of Mays inserting a finger inside the victim during the car ride to Cole’s house. Westlake testified he saw Richmond inserting two fingers inside the victim in the basement of the Cole residence.

“It was joke for some people, but not to (the victim),” Hemmeter said.

She said the victim wanted to have a relationship with Mays and trusted Mays, but Mays betrayed that trust by allowing the events to unfold.

Alleged victim testifies

The alleged victim in the case testified for about an hour on direct examination and 40 minutes on cross-examination Saturday.

Testimony showed the alleged victim was drinking vodka at the Belardine home on Wilma Avenue in Steubenville and became intoxicated. When that party was shut down, the alleged victim was taken by the two defendants to the Howarth house on Westwood Drive in Steubenville, where she threw up at least twice, testimony revealed. She then was driven to the Cole home outside Wintersville, according to testimony Wednesday and at the probable cause hearing held in October.

The alleged victim said she remembered being at the Belardine house and walking out, but nothing else. She did remember throwing up in the middle of a street. Other testimony showed that happened outside the Howarth house.

Gianna Anile and Kelsey Weaver, both students at Weirton Madonna High School who said they were at one time friends with the alleged victim, testified that they saw the victim rolling around the floor of the Belardine house, drunk.

Anile and Weaver, who were among three West Virginia residents who tried unsuccessfully to fight the subpoenas issued from the Ohio court in West Virginia court, were called as defense witnesses by Madison.

The victim said she remembered waking up naked on a couch in the basement of the Cole home. She said she was “embarrassed” and “scared,” and that she couldn’t remember anything that allegedly happened that night.

She testified that Mays, Cole and Richmond were standing around her when she woke up. She asked for her clothes and cell phone. Her cell phone, her underwear and her earrings.

She said Cole and Mays told her it was a hassle to take care of her.

“They were just like yelling at me,” she testified.

Anile said she went with Julia Lefever to the Cole home to get the victim on Aug. 12. Anile, Lefever and Weaver were at the Belardine house together, testimony showed.

Anile said she started yelling at the victim in the car because of social media postings and what allegedly happened. Anile said the victim said, “We didn’t have sex. I swear.” When asked what happened, Anile said the victim said, “I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

The victim said during the next several days, she started to get information from other people and through social media about what was alleged to have happened.

She said she received picture of herself taken when she was naked. She also began to cry on the witness stand on Saturday when she was shown another picture of her naked -a picture she said she had never seen before.

The victim went to Weirton Medical Center with her mother and an aunt when the information really began to flow about the night in question, she testified. She said the now-infamous YouTube video featuring narration by Michael Nodianos had an impact on her decision to go to the hospital and be checked for rape. In that video, Nodianos can be heard using lewd terms to describe the actions on the video.

Mays then began texting her to try to get her to say nothing happened that night, the victim testified.

She said Mays claimed he took care of her that night. Mays texted her and said she had performed a sexual act on him and that was it, the victim testified.

After the video featuring Nodianos started to go viral, she said she really got mad at Mays. She said she couldn’t at first watch the entire Nodianos video. “I couldn’t stop crying, so I turned it off,” she said.

She said Mays kept texting her that she should be thankful that had had taken care of her.

She claimed Mays said, in reference to the video, “They thought we were going to rape, you but didn’t.”

Mays then texted her, asking why the police were getting involved.

Anile and Weaver, meanwhile, both said they are no longer friends with the victim.

Anile said the victim was sometimes drinking vodka straight out of the bottle at the Belardine house the night of the alleged incident. Anile said she tried to get the victim to leave, but the victim pulled back and said she wanted to stay.

Anile said she had seen the victim drunk before, even passed out. She said the victim is not easy to wake up, and even shaking won’t wake her up.

Weaver said the victim told her she believes she was drugged that night. Tests at the hospital didn’t confirm that, according to testimony.

When asked by Madison if Weaver believed the victim, Weaver said no, because the victim lies about things.

Two expert witnesses, one called by Madison and one by the prosecution, gave conflicting testimony.

Kim Fromme, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert on the research of alcohol and its effects on adults and young adults, said about 50 percent of juveniles have blackouts from drinking. A blackout is when a person is capable of engaging in actions without remembering what happened, she said. To pass out is when the brain shuts down due to the toxicity of alcohol, she said. A person who passes out can’t make voluntary decisions.

She said alcohol induced blackouts account for memory loss.

Fromme said, based on certain evidence and witness statements provided by Madison, the victim had a blood-alcohol content consistent with alcohol induced blackout.

Fromme, on cross-examination by Hemmeter, said she was not provided with a picture of the naked and unconscious victim being carried out of the Howarth house.

Lauren Marinett, chief forensic analyst with the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office, said it is not possible to estimate a blood-alcohol content. She said there was no real evidence as to how much alcohol the victim consumed that night. She said Fromme was relying upon the memory of others who also were drinking.

Madison argued the state’s expert is not as qualified on the subject as Fromme.