NEW CUMBERLAND - Declaring the fairness issue to be settled, attorney Walter Madison said he feels better about today's start of the Steubenville rape trial of two juveniles now that three Hancock County young people will be allowed to testify.
"We're finally there," said Madison, who is representing one of the defendants.
Madison said he was pleased with the outcome of a hearing held late Tuesday at the Hancock County Courthouse before Circuit Court Judge Ronald Wilson, in which Wilson ordered three "material and necessary" witnesses to be subject to out-of-state subpoenas compelling their testimony.
The long-anticipated trial, which has attracted national media attention to Steubenville for months, begins today in Jefferson County Juvenile Court before Judge Thomas Lipps. The two defendants, players on the Steubenville High School football team, are accused of raping a 16-year-old Weirton girl during an end-of-summer party in August.
Counsel for both defendants had asked for the case to be dismissed on fairness grounds after Wilson ruled last week, without the benefit of a hearing, that the three Hancock County teenagers could not be compelled to testify. Lawyers for both defendants said the three juveniles are essential to their case.
"Suffice it to say that these witnesses have personal knowledge as to the facts in this case," Madison said after Tuesday's hearing, which was held under tight security from the Hancock County Sheriff's Department.
Several witnesses, including two teenage girls, were escorted into Wilson's chambers during the hour-long hearing. Wilson said the testimony elicited convinced him that the witnesses were "material and necessary" and should testify at the trial.
His order, which refers to the juveniles only by their initials, also specifies how the witnesses should be notified of the date and time when their testimony is needed. They must be given at least 14 hours' notice either by fax or e-mail, he said.
"The children ... are ... alleged to have information important to the defendant in the pending juvenile action in Steubenville, Ohio," Wilson wrote in his order.
Because Madison is not licensed to practice in West Virginia, he sought the help of Cleveland attorney James Popson, who is licensed in Ohio and West Virginia. Popson filed a writ of mandamus with the West Virginia Supreme Court, asking that Wilson be ordered to hold a hearing on the subpoena issue.
Madison said the issue was complicated by the fact that the subpoenas are from out of state, and a state's subpoena power is sufficient only within its borders.
"One state can't tell another state what to do," he said.
Madison said he felt strongly that the issue of the teenagers being allowed to testify should be given a full hearing.