Richmond 3
Steubenville, Ohio, football player Ma'lik Richmond in court Saturday, March 16, 2013. He was convicted of sexual assault by the judge the next day. Reuters

This story has been corrected. Royal Mayo is no longer the president of the Steubenville chapter of the NAACP, a post he left in late 2010. He is currently a member of the group's Ohio executive committee but does not speak on behalf of the NAACP.

In shocking comments, the former president of the Steubenville chapter of the NAACP places the blame for the rape case that has shocked the nation on the 16-year-old victim.

Royal Mayo, a lifelong resident of the Ohio city that gained national infamy following the rape of the girl by two Steubenville High School football players, says that attention should be focused on the role of the young woman, whom he calls the "alleged victim," saying she was drunk and wanted to go out with one of the football players. He also claims that other teens involved in the incident were let off easy, because they were "well-connected."

Last week, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl on the night of Aug. 11, 2012. The two football players brought the victim to two separate parties as other teens photographed and documented the sexual abuse. The victim had been drinking heavily and was unconscious during the attacks. Videos and photos were shared by teens who attended the party, which would be later used as evidence against Mays, 17, and Richmond, 16. The two were sentenced to juvenile detention -- two years for Mays and one year for Richmond.

Mayo, who said he knows Richmond personally, tells a sordid tale about Steubenville and its racial dynamic and history of corruption. For him, the story does not end with the conviction of two teens for sexual assault. Yet some of his claims clash with the official account of the case.

The 'Alleged' Victim

In a phone interview with the International Business Times, Mayo described the 16-year-old girl as the “alleged victim” and said she might have been having consensual sex. “She said her mother brought her to the party, at 3 o'clock, with a bottle of vodka,” Mayo said. “Where did you get it, young lady? You brought it from home? Where’d you get it? You came to the party with your mother.”

Mayo added that she might have been a willing participant, apparently unfazed by the inflammatory nature of such statements. “They’re alleging she got raped; she’s acknowledging that she wanted to leave with Trent. Her friends say she pushed them away as she went and got into the car, twice telling them, ‘I know what I’m doing; I’m going with Trent,’” Mayo said.

By 10:30 p.m., other partygoers were making catcalls and bets to urinate on her, according to a New York Times time line of the incident. The victim was “carried” out of the party by Richmond and Mays two hours later. In the car on the way to another party, Mays was videotaped digitally penetrating the victim. At a third party, the victim was unable to walk on her own, and, according to testimony, Richmond was seen digitally penetrating her from behind. In the videotaped testimonies from the teens at the party, they understood that something wrong was happening but did not stop the sexual assault, as reported by Gawker.

Mayo is not alone in his opinion of the incident and the victim's role. Since the tweets and videos made headlines across the country, the victim has been bullied and received death threats. A Tumblr blog was created that includes tweets and posts that defend Mays and Richmond, questions whether the incident even constitutes rape and blames the victim. Local blogger Alexandria Goddard, who broke the story and spent hours screen-grabbing the numerous tweets from students, said in an XO Jane article, "I have been called a 'slut,' a 'drunk,' a 'bitch with an agenda,' a 'liar' and someone who hates Big Red [the school football team Mays and Richmond played on] so bad that my desire was to bring down their football program." She was hit with a defamation lawsuit, which was later thrown out, and her family has received threats and harassment.

Mayo's doubts do not end with the events on that night. He claims that Steubenvile police never followed up on compelling evidence and additional suspects. For him, there is enough doubt to question Richmond's conviction and enough evidence to perhaps convict more teens. Mayo acknowledged his ties to the Richmond family, saying he counseled Richmond when news of an alleged sexual assault began circulating in August. Before Richmond's arrest, Mayo spoke to him about the allegations.

“Back in August, when the rumors first started going around, I talked to Ma’lik, and he said, ‘No, Mr. Mayo, we didn’t do anything to that girl. I don’t know what these rumors are; I don’t understand it.’”

Unanswered Questions

For Mayo, who said he attended each day of the trial, there are many questions left unanswered. “Well, there were so many things surrounding that case that made it seem odd to me,” Mayo said. “What they did was, they said, ‘We want DNA from everybody at the party, because everybody is a suspect in the alleged rape.’ One individual at the party didn’t give his DNA, refused to give his DNA, and he was allowed to refuse to give his DNA.” Mayo is referring to Evan Westlake, one of the teens present at the three locations where the sexual assault occurred.

It is unclear, based on previous media reports, if DNA samples were taken from everyone who was at the house, but Mays’ DNA was found on a blanket used to cover the victim. As reported by ABC News, Westlake did not provide a sample of his DNA. The lead detective on the case, J.P. Rigaud, under cross-examination by Richmond’s attorney, Walter Madison, said he simply did not pursue the matter.

While there is evidence linking Mays to the crime, Mayo is unconvinced that the same is true about Richmond. He believes that the evidence is, at best, inconclusive and, at worst, not credible. During the trial, Westlake testified that he saw Richmond engaging in a sexual act with the victim in the basement of the house, but Mayo emphasizes that Westlake's comments were vague and indefinite.

“Now, he said, ‘It appeared that he did something,’ ‘It looked like’ and ‘I thought ...’ He never said, ‘I was definite, and I’m 100 percent sure.’ And, out of the witnesses, he’s the only one that said that. The other guys said, ‘Ma’lik was behind her, I couldn’t tell, I couldn’t see anything,’ but he definitely saw it,” Mayo says.

But eyewitnesses recalled Mays and Richmond being around the victim, and a voice in the background of the Nodianos tape can be heard saying, “Trent and Ma'lik raped someone.”

Mayo also alleges that a third suspect may have been involved, claiming there was additional DNA evidence beyond that found on the blanket. “[The victim] has a strand of DNA inside her shorts that’s unidentified, and it’s nobody’s DNA that was at that party ... at that house where it allegedly happened; nobody else’s DNA that was there matched that DNA,” he says.

According to Mayo, who questions the police's motives, this unidentified DNA was not investigated further. But there are no reports of any DNA similar to what Mayo describes, and the Steubenville police department declined to comment on the claims.

Police Corruption In Steubenville?

Mayo mistrusts the Steubenville police department, making this claim a cornerstone of his argument that the two teens were unjustly tried and convicted. And he's not alone.

The police department has a tangled history in its relations with African-American residents and was the target of 48 civil-rights lawsuits over a 20-year period regarding issues such as false arrests, excessive force and police misconduct. As a result, it became only the second city in the country to be subject to a consent decree from the federal government. In its 1997 ruling, the Department of Justice stated, "The United States alleges that officers of the Steubenville Police Department have engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights, privileges or immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States and that the city of Steubenville, the Steubenville Police Department and the Steubenville city manager (in his capacity as director of public safety) have caused and condoned this conduct through inadequate policies and failure to train, monitor, supervise and discipline police officers and to investigate alleged misconduct."

As part of the consent decree, the Steubenville police department was required to improve its training, create new guidelines such as writing a report every time an officer conducts a search without a warrant, inform suspects of their Miranda Rights and create an internal affairs division in the department. With that history, Mayo believes that the police wanted to close the rape case quickly.

“You hear local people saying, ‘We got this out of the way, let us just heal, let the community start to heal.’ It’s like these two were sacrificed, the poor black kid and the white kid who is from the next county, in the next town over, who were sacrificed over all the other dirt and corruption that would be uncovered if you come into Steubenville,” Mayo says.

Mayo also claims that the house where the rape occurred does not fall under Steubenville's jurisdiction; he questioned why the Steubenville Police Department, and not the sheriff’s department, was the lead investigator on the case.

The Coach’s Role

Steubenville's high school football program is the pride of the town and a nationally recognized powerhouse. The status of football in Steubenville has led some to believe that the Steubenville head football coach, Reno Saccoccia, wields too much influence and that his players were afforded leniency.

While Saccoccia was not directly involved in the case, he did testify on behalf of Mays and Richmond during the trial. According to Deadspin, Saccoccia did not suspend any other football players who shared or took photos during the night. There have also been calls to have Saccoccia fired. Mayo describes Saccoccia, who he says he has known for 40 years, as someone who has tried “to keep black kids out of harm’s way and white kids honestly. That’s my honest opinion of knowing him.”

Text messages presented as evidence in court indicated that some of the football players felt immune to any fallout from the incident because of the perceived influence of Saccoccia, Deadspin reports. And Mayo suspects that some of them were able to cut deals in return for their testimony.

“Here’s the question for me: ‘If none of these guys had immunity from the beginning and one of them made a pornographic movie with his phone with two teenagers, the other two admitted to taking pornographic photos or nude photos of the girl, if they had no immunity or no deal with the prosecutors or police, how come they are not under arrest?” Mayo says.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine insists there have been no such immunity deals and that the investigation is continuing, meaning some of the teens who shared photos could be arrested at a later date. A spokesman for the Steubenville Police Department referred questions to DeWine's office, which declined to comment on Mayo's specific claims.