Teen eyewitnesses testify in Ohio rape trial
Updated On: Mar 15 2013 11:22:04 PM CDT
Three teens testified Friday they saw two star Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players accused of rape engage in sexual contact with an allegedly drunk 16-year-old girl.
The testimony came during the third day of a trial that has gained national attention over its focus on text messages and cell-phone pictures and videos surrounding the alleged sexual abuse of the girl.
Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, are accused of raping the girl during a series of end-of-summer parties in August 2012.
One of the witnesses, a 17-year-old, told Judge Thomas Lipps that he used his cell phone to record Mays putting his fingers inside the girl's vagina during a drive from one party to another. The boy said he deleted the video the next morning when he realized it was wrong.
Defense lawyers tried to dismantle what prosecutors said was the central argument in the case -- whether the girl was too drunk to understand what was happening to her. The defense challenged whether all three witnesses were reconstructing events from memory or from the text messages and cell phone images.
According to prosecutors, Richmond and Mays each penetrated the victim's vagina with their fingers, an act that constitutes rape under Ohio law.
Mays also is accused of illegal use of a minor in nudity oriented material.
Lawyers for the accused teens say the two are innocent.
The teen witness, whom CNN is not identifying because of his age, was identified as a friend of Mays and Richmond as well as a Steubenville High School football player and wrestler.
The teen also told the court Mays later attempted to have the girl perform a sex act on him in the basement of a home, where they ended up after the initial alleged incident in the car.
"She didn't really respond to it," he said.
CNN is not naming the girl in line with its policy of not identifying the alleged victims of sexual assault. CNN also is not naming the minors who are testifying but is identifying Mays and Richmond, whose names have been used by court officials and their attorneys and in multiple media accounts.
A second witness, 18-year-old Evan Westlake, told the judge he saw Richmond digitally penetrate the girl in the basement of the home where they ended up after the parties.
On cross-examination, Richmond's attorney, Walter Madison, challenged whether Westlake's was trying to right a wrong through his testimony.
"I felt a lot of regret, difficult to face my family knowing they knew what I had done," Westlake testified.
A third witness, 18-year-old Anthony Craig, testified he saw Richmond digitally penetrate the girl in the basement.
"She wasn't moving. She wasn't talking. She wasn't participating," he told the court. Craig was identified in as a Steubenville High School wrestler and friend of Mays and Richmond.
The teen, who testified the alleged victim was also a friend, admitted to taking a cell phone picture of the girl when she was naked in the basement and then showing it later to friends. Asked why, he responded: "It was stupid."
The teens testified only after Lipps, who is presiding over the trial without a jury, granted them immunity from prosecution. All three initially attempted to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.
The testimony came a day after prosecutors presented text messages they said were between Mays and various people, and the alleged victim.
Prosecutors contend the texts between Mays and his friends and classmates on August 12 detail a night of heavy drinking and the sexual abuse of the girl.
Some of the messages were between Mays and the alleged victim.
In one message she asks what happened "last night."
"And don't lie about anything. I need to know the truth. People keep asking. Idk (I don't know) what to say," the message said, according to Joann Gibb, a computer forensic investigator with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, who read the messages to the court on Thursday.
Mays responded that "nothing happened last night," but he told her in the message she performed a sex act on him, Gibb testified.
In some of the messages from Mays, according to Gibb, he writes that he had sex with the girl. In others, he says the girl performed a sex act on him.
One message asked Mays: " Did u do it?"
He responded, according to Gibb: "No, lol. She could barely move."
Still another graphic message from Mays to a friend appeared to detail his anger over being accused of rape.
"I'm pissed all I got was a hand job, though. I should have raped since everyone thinks I did," the message said, according to Gibb.
The defense questioned the validity of the messages, with Mays' attorney asking computer forensic expert Gibb whether she could be absolutely sure the messages were from his client.
"I can't put a person behind a cell phone," she said.
In earlier testimony, teens who attended some of the booze-soaked parties testified the girl appeared to be drunk, stumbling and slurring words.
But on cross-examination some said she seemed to be able to walk and answer questions.
The trial, which is likely to stretch into the weekend, is moving quickly to accommodate the schedule of the judge. A verdict is expected by Sunday.
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