State makes its case against YSU player

COLUMBUS — A man convicted as a juvenile of raping a 16-year-old girl has consistently tried to minimize his involvement in the crime and should remain on Ohio’s sex offender registry, state prosecutors argue.

At issue is a request by former Steubenville High School football player Ma’Lik Richmond to be removed from the list with his prison time and parole completed. Richmond now plays football for Youngstown State University.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office says Richmond tried to escape responsibility for his actions from the beginning when he lied to police about not having a cell phone. Only a search of other phones led to evidence of Richmond’s guilt, the state said.

“Richmond has sought to minimize his involvement and avail himself of the absolutely least amount of personal accountability for his actions,” Angela Canepa, an assistant Attorney General working as a special prosecutor, said in a Feb. 22 filing in Jefferson County juvenile court.

Richmond has portrayed himself as a victim of the criminal justice system and sought the lowest possible punishment for his actions, including categories on the sex offender list, Canepa said.

Richmond, now 21, was convicted in 2013 of raping the West Virginia girl at a party that followed a football scrimmage the previous year. He served nine months in detention, nine months on parole, and later rejoined the Steubenville football team.

After his conviction, Richmond was ordered to register his address every six months for the next 20 years. In 2014, Judge Thomas Lipps agreed to reclassify him so that he has to register only once per year for the next decade.

Lipps heard arguments from both sides at a Thursday hearing, with a decision expected in the next few weeks.

Richmond’s attorneys say he successfully served his punishment and parole and is fully rehabilitated.

They said Richmond earned the respect of detention staff, mentors, treatment providers and community members along the way, and nothing in his record suggests he’ll commit another crime.

Richmond’s “progress reflects that the juvenile system has accomplished exactly what it is supposed to in this case — rehabilitation,” state public defenders Brooke Burns and Katherine Sato argued in a March 19 court filing.

The 2012 case drew international attention because of the role of social media publicizing the assault, initial allegations of a cover-up by local authorities and frustration that more football players weren’t charged.

Richmond came to YSU in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore after attending colleges in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. At first, football head coach Bo Pelini denied Richmond the chance to join the team.

After numerous calls, messages and emails from Richmond’s guardians, juvenile officers and coaches, Pelini agreed to meet with Richmond. Still, Pelini denied Richmond the chance to join the team. Instead, Pelini broke down a detailed plan that Richmond needed to follow to earn a walk-on tryout with the Penguins.

Richmond, 21, joined the team in January 2017 and earned a spot on the roster during spring practices, but he was then told he couldn’t play in any games last fall after a student petition to keep him off the team was started. Richmond then filed suit against the school on Sept. 13, and a judge issued a temporary order at a hearing that again allowed Richmond to play.

A few days later, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end played in his first game, making two tackles late in a 59-9 victory over Central Connecticut State.

YSU later agreed to settle the lawsuit with Richmond.

Pelini and the university have endured scrutiny for allowing Richmond on the team in the first place.

Richmond’s father, Nathaniel, was shot and killed in August 2017 after he shot at a judge.