An Ohio judge has ruled that the Steubenville rape case will remain open to the media while denying a request from the defense to relocate the highly publicized trial when it begins March 13.
Judge Thomas Lipps denied motions from the defense to move the trial out of Jefferson County in eastern Ohio, rejecting their claims that relocation would help prevent witness intimidation. The defense complained that some witnesses have already been threatened and the amount of media attention on the area brings undue pressure.
Steubenville High School football players Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, both 16, have been charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl during a night of partying in August of last year. Pictures of the students carrying the girl, who was clearly unconscious, by her limbs quickly spread through social media and caught the attention of the New York Times, which published an account of the ensuing investigation and addressed allegations of town police trying to ignore any crimes that took place.
Mays and Richmond will not face a jury because they’ll both be tried as juveniles. The Atlantic reported that Mays will also face a charge involving illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
Media and the public will be allowed in the courtroom, a seeming reversal on the communitywide gag order issued by a judge when the case hit national headlines.
Attention around the case exploded when, after the New York Times report, hackers from the Anonymous collective posted a 12-minute video of a friend of Mays and Richmond drunkenly joking about the alleged rape. The friend, Michael Nodianos, said the girl seemed dead, which he found amusing, while partygoers in the background shouted, “Trent and Ma’lik raped a girl.”
Legal analyst Paul Callan told CNN the judge’s decision to keep the trial public was “unusual in that traditionally juvenile proceedings have been shrouded in secrecy to protect children.
“Historically, most U.S. states have restricted public and press access to juvenile proceedings,” Callan said after Wednesday’s ruling. “In recent years, though, there has been a trend toward opening the secretive juvenile justice system to public scrutinty, especially where a serious felony has been charged.”
Before the judge’s decision Wednesday, prosecutors with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office asked Lipps to keep the proceedings sealed to protect the identity of the girl, now known only as Jane Doe, according to the Toledo Blade. Lawyers for the Associated Press, the New York Times, CNN, and others said the case should be transparent so the public will know if there truly was any misconduct by investigators.
Defense attorney Walter Madison was denied in his request for attorneys to be allowed to refer to the girl as “the accuser” during the trial, which is expected to only last from March 13 to March 15. Madison’s fellow defense attorney, Adam Nemann, said he had hired a private investigator.
“There are numerous potential new witnesses, and that is the primary reason we requested a continuance because, through both social media websites, through reinvigorated prosecution investigating along with some other tips we have received, there are a lot more people that we would like to speak with that would have relevant information to testify about,” Nemann told WTOV in Ohio.