Emotions high at sentencing

STEUBENVILLE – Everyone involved in the rape case against two Steubenville High School student-athletes said it should be used as a life lesson for parents and teenagers.

Visiting Juvenile Judge Thomas Lipps found Trent Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville guilty Sunday of rape in connection with an incident involving an underage girl Aug. 11-12. Mays also was found delinquent of a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for having a picture of the 16-year-old victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone.

The non-jury trial at the Jefferson County Justice Center lasted four days, with testimony ending Saturday evening.

Lipps sentenced Richmond and Mays to spend at least one year in an Ohio Department of Youth Services facility or until they are 21 years old. He ordered Mays to spend at least one additional year in the youth center for illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

Lipps said he believed the actions of Mays were more “egregious” and ordered that his sentences be consecutive, meaning Mays will serve a minimum of two years.

Mays and Richmond also face sex offender reporting requirements, but Lipps said he won’t make a determination on that until both are about to be released from state facilities. He ordered the state Department of Youth Services to provide sex-offender rehabilitation treatment.

The two teens broke down in tears after the verdict was read and later apologized to the victim. Both were emotional as they spoke, and Richmond began sobbing so heavily that he bent over and had to be helped back to his seat. Richmond’s father, Nathaniel, also asked that the victim’s family “forgive Malik and Trent for the pain they put you through.”

The teens face a maximum reporting requirement of notifying the sheriff where they live every 90 days for life. There are less serious reporting requirements, such as twice a year for 20 years or once a year for 10 years.

Lipps told the parents of the defendants to contact the state Department of Youth Services to help determine which facility the teens will be sent to.

He said the Paint Creek Light House Youth Center, a privately run Department of Youth Services facility in Bainbridge, has “excellent” programs for juvenile sex offenders. He said a judge must give permission for a teen to be sent there and he is willing to give such permission.

Lipps told the juveniles there is plenty of opportunity for them to show good character but also to make mistakes.

“There is a great incentive there for them to do good,” he said.

Lipps said he hopes the defendants, as well as the victim, take this experience and build upon it as they grow into adulthood. He also said he hopes all parents have discussions with their children about the use of social media and drinking alcohol, adding that drinking is an “age-old problem” with teens.

Testimony showed the victim, who lives in Weirton, W.Va., was drinking vodka at a home in Steubenville and became intoxicated. When that party was shut down, she was taken by the two defendants to another house in Steubenville, where she threw up at least twice. She then was driven to a home outside Wintersville, according to testimony.

Mark Cole and Evan Westlake, after Lipps had granted them immunity from prosecution in connection with the case, testified that they had seen the defendants sexually assault victim.

The prosecution argued the victim was highly intoxicated and unable to give consent.

Social media played a large role in the case, with text messages, videos and pictures making up a large amount the evidence presented.

The mother of the victim released an audio statement after the sentencing Sunday.

“It did not matter what school you went to, what city you lived in, what sport you played, human compassion is not taught by a teacher, coach or a parent. It is a God-given gift instilled in all of us. You displayed not only a lack of this compassion, but a lack of any moral code. Your decisions that night affected countless lives, including those most dear to you. You were your own accuser through this social media that you chose to publish your criminal conduct on. This does not define who my daughter is. She will persevere, grow and move on. I have pity for you both, and hope you fear the Lord. Repent for your actions and pray hard for his forgiveness,” she said.

Mays apologized to the victim, her family and the community after Lipps issued his ruling. He said naked pictures of the victim should not have been distributed.

Richmond also apologized, saying he had no intention of doing anything like this. He walked across the courtroom to face the victim’s family and said, “I want you to know I’m truly sorry.”

Fred Abdalla Jr., juvenile court chief probation officer, came over to help hold Richmond while he was crying in front of the victim’s family.

Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said there was no remorse from the defendants to what happened to the victim. She said once information on the rape got out, there was a conscientious decision to blame her, the victim, for what happened.

“The lack of remorse was most appalling. The disregard for another human being can’t be ignored,” Hemmeter said.

Attorney Adam Nemann, who represented Mays, said he has been with Mays since September and seen him in the family home. He said the public doesn’t see that Mays “is a very caring, family oriented, loving man.” He said the Mays family, which was in the courtroom throughout the trial “is ashamed as well.”

Attorney Walter Madison, who represented Richmond, said Richmond’s father, Nate, made a lot of mistakes in his life. He said Nate Richmond apologized for not being there for his son.

Bob Fitzsimmons, an attorney representing the victim’s family, said the family forgives the two young defendants.

“They are praying for those two. We now need to regroup and, hopefully, we all can learn valuable lessons. It is not a time to point fingers, but a time to put our hands together and pray a little bit,” he said.

The case roiled the community amid allegations that more students should have been charged – accusations that Ohio’s attorney general pledged to look into – and led to questions from a much wider audience online about the influence of the local football team, a source of a pride in a community of 18,000 that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the steel industry.

Protesters who sought guilty verdicts stood outside the courthouse Sunday morning, their arms linked, some wearing masks. Later, prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter criticized the efforts by the hacker collective Anonymous to publicize the case, saying the extra attention led to a chilling effect on those willing to testify.

Law is a reporter with the Steubenville Herald-Star.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.