Two Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players have been found guilty of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl after a party last August, a juvenile court judge ruled Sunday.
Judge Thomas Lipps said the teens, ages 17 and 16, attacked the girl at the alcohol-fueled party. They could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21.
Both teens broke down in tears after the verdict was read, and apologized to the victim and to the community. Both were emotional as they spoke, and the 16-year-old struggled at times to talk through his sobs.
The 17-year-old apologized for taking a photo of the girl that was posted online and fueled speculation over what happened that night.
The football players were charged with digitally penetrating the West Virginia girl, first in the backseat of a moving car after the alcohol-fueled party on Aug. 11, and then in the basement of a house. The 17-year-old was also found guilty on a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and was sentenced to an additional year in jail, to be served after his rape sentence is completed. The teens were also ordered to avoid contact with the victim until they're 21.
Ohio's attorney general said he'll convene a grand jury to investigate whether other people should be charged in the case. Activist groups have questioned why people who knew about the rape weren't charged under state law requiring people to report crimes.
The case roiled the community amid allegations that more students should have been charged and led to questions about the influence of the local football team, a source of pride in a community of 18,000 that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the steel industry. Their arms linked, protesters stood outside the courthouse Sunday morning awaiting the verdict, some wearing masks.
The trial opened last week as a contest between prosecutors determined to show the girl was so drunk she couldn't have been a willing participant that night, and defense attorneys soliciting testimony from witnesses that would indicate that the girl, though drunk, knew what she was doing.
The teenage girl testified Saturday that she could not recall what happened the night of the attack but remembered waking up naked in a strange house after drinking at a party. The girl said she recalled drinking, leaving the party holding hands with the 17-year-old and throwing up later. When she woke up, she said she discovered her phone, earrings, shoes, and underwear were missing, she testified.
"It was really scary," she said. "I honestly did not know what to think because I could not remember anything."
The girl said she believed she was assaulted when she later read text messages among friends and saw a photo of herself taken that night, along with a video that made fun of her and the alleged attack. She said she suspected she had been drugged because she couldn't explain being as intoxicated as defense witnesses have said she was.
"They treated her like a toy," said special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter.
Evidence introduced at the trial included graphic text messages sent by numerous students after the night of the party, including by the accuser, containing provocative descriptions of sex acts and obscene language. Lawyers noted during the trial how texts have seemed to replace talking on the phone for contemporary teens. A computer forensic expert called by the state documented tens of thousands of texts found on 17 phones seized during the investigation.
The girl herself recalled being in a car later with the football players and asking them what happened.
"They kept telling me I was a hassle and they took care of me," she testified. "I thought I could trust him until I saw the pictures and video."
In questioning her account, defense attorneys went after her character and credibility. Two former friends of the girl testified that the accuser had a history of drinking heavily and was known to lie.
"The reality is, she drank, she has a reputation for telling lies," said lawyer Walter Madison, representing the 16-year-old.
The two girls testified they were angry at the accuser because she was drinking heavily at the party and rolling around on the floor. They said they tried unsuccessfully to get her to stop drinking.
The accuser said that she does not remember being photographed as she was carried by the football players, an image that stirred up outrage, first locally, then globally, as it spread online. Others have testified the photo was a joke and the girl was conscious when it was taken.
The photograph led to allegations that three other boys, two of them members of Steubenville High's celebrated Big Red team, saw something happening that night and didn't try to stop it but instead recorded it.
The three boys weren't charged, fueling months of online accusations of a cover-up to protect the team, which law enforcement authorities have vehemently denied.
Instead, the teens were granted immunity to testify, and their accounts helped incriminate the defendants. They said the girl was so drunk she didn't seem to know what was happening to her and confirmed she was digitally penetrated in a car and later on a basement floor.
Ohio's attorney general planned to announce later Sunday whether additional charges will be brought in the case, including against the three other boys.
The 17-year-old and 16-year-old were determined to be delinquent, the juvenile equivalent of guilty, Lipps ruled in the juvenile court trial without a jury.
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