STEUBENVILLE - Potential witnesses for the two Steubenville High School student-athletes facing rape accusations have been threatened and pressured not to testify and some are reluctant to come forward, attorneys for the players said Monday as they consider whether to ask the trial be moved and closed to the public.
At issue is publicity surrounding the case and the concerns some witnesses have that their names and addresses may be published through social media and on the Internet.
Tom Lipps, the visiting judge who is overseeing the case, previously declined a request to close the proceedings.
"They are reluctant to sacrifice their college career, their reputation, or their otherwise good standing in whatever community they may be from for fear of being vilified and certain personal information finding its way on the Internet," said Walter Madison, an attorney for 16-year-old defendant Ma'Lik Richmond.
Social media and the Internet are playing a crucial role in the case. Hackers last week released a video purportedly showing a Steubenville student joking about the alleged attack and an attorney for the girl's family has said online commentary about the case had made the situation harder. Another Steubenville student dropped a suit last month over comments on a blog that suggested he might have been involved.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is overseeing the case's prosecution, said the decision will be up to the judge. He declined to comment on the attorneys' concerns.
"There is obviously a lot going on in the social media and there's a lot going on in the mainstream media, but ultimately this case will be decided by a juvenile judge who will listen to the evidence, and the case will be presented no differently than it would in any other case," DeWine said.
Brian Duncan, an attorney for the other 16-year-old defendant, Trent Mays, said Monday he's considering a similar request.
"We just want to make sure our client and the other defendant have their proper day in court," Duncan said.
The trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 13 in juvenile court in Steubenville. Richmond and Mays are both facing rape charges. Mays also has been charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-related material. Their attorneys have denied the charges in court.