After four long, emotional days of testimony and evidence, Judge Thomas Lipps was given the Steubenville rape case on Saturday night and said he will announce his verdict at 10 a.m. ET Sunday at the Jefferson County Justice Center.
Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, are charged with the rape last August of a 16-year-old West Virginia girl who prosecutors say was drunk or drugged after a teenage party. Mays and Richmond are being tried as juveniles and face imprisonment until they turn 21. They have each maintained their innocence.
Both teens are members of Steubenville High School's powerhouse Big Red football program, which plays to much adulation and is a point of local pride in this aging steel mill town in Eastern Ohio.
The case drew international attention because of pictures of the victim, who appeared passed out as the defendants appeared to be carrying her by her ankles and wrists. Later, a video of a friend of the defendants making crude, cruel jokes about the "dead girl" who he declared was "so raped" shocked many. In addition, the state was able to recover thousands of text messages and social media comments about the night, offering a near real-time accounting of the night, often in crude language.
"This case isn't about YouTube videos," special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said to Judge Lipps in her closing arguments. "This case isn't about social media. … It is about a 16-year-old girl who was taken advantage, toyed with and humiliated. And it's for [the defendants] to pay for what they did."
Saturday brought another extended day in court, nearly 12 more hours that included the victim taking the stand and weeping as she saw a photo of herself naked and passed out that night – a photo that was snapped and shared among many Steubenville High students.
The girl, who lives and attends a different high school across the Ohio River in Weirton, W.V., testified that she remembers nothing of the attacks or of the night after admittedly drinking heavily at a party.
She just recalls waking up in the morning, naked in a strange basement surrounded by the defendants. The state alleges she was assaulted there by both Mays and Richmond, as well as being previously digitally penetrated by Mays in the backseat of a car as one of his friends filmed the act.
"I woke up with no clothes on and I didn't know what had happened at all," she testified Saturday. "I was on a couch. My clothes were off. My hair was a mess and it felt weird."
She was the final powerful bit of testimony in a case that appears to greatly favor the prosecution.
The state was able to call three direct eyewitnesses to the alleged assaults. All three were friends and teammates of the defendants and were given immunity from future prosecution. That included one who admitted he filmed the incident in the car and later watched it again before deleting it.
There is also a mountain of information from social media accounts and a culling of some 350,000 text messages on the phones of 17 area teenagers. It features the defendants acknowledging sexual contact with the girl. Mays also texted numerous lewd and insensitive comments about the girl and later tried to plot a meager cover-up with friends.
Defense attorneys for Mays and Richmond pointed out shifting stories among the teens, timeline inconsistencies and claimed the sex acts were consensual. They also tried to prove the girl wasn't as intoxicated as the state said.
"We know a person can be fully engaged in an experience and be blacked out," stated Richmond's attorney, Walter Madison. He brought in expert witnesses to back that claim, saying the girl would've needed to consume 11 shots of alcohol to be as drunk as the state said she was.
However, numerous witnesses described her as drunk and the girl vomited multiple times in front of the defendants.
The incidents took place soon after that.
"The things that made her an impaired witness, made her, in every sense of the word, the perfect victim," Hemmeter said.
Hemmeter argued that this was a girl being victimized and later humiliated via social media and cell phones by people she considered her friends and even potential boyfriends; the girl's friends testified she was interested in Mays.
"The fact she might like Trent, that doesn't make what they did [excusable]," Hemmeter said. "It makes it worse because she trusted him, and he took that trust and served her up to his friend [Richmond]."
[Related: Steubenville rape trial divides Ohio town]
The trial has divided parts of this community, where the Big Red football team sparks great loyalty. Also, in a geographically isolated town of only 18,000 people, just about everyone knows everyone, including the defendants and most witnesses. The local prosecutors office recused itself from the case early on because of conflicts of interest.
The case was handled by the state's attorney general office out of Columbus. Lipps was brought in from the Cincinnati area to handle the juvenile proceeding.
There is no jury; Lipps opinion is final.
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