Steubenville teens treated girl 'like a toy,' prosecutor says

NOTE: This article contains disturbing content that may be triggering for some readers.

 

By Michael Pearson and Poppy Harlow

Steubenville, Ohio (CNN) -- Two Steubenville, Ohio, football stars treated a young girl "like a toy," sexually assaulting her, recording some of the abuse and then, finally, bragging about what had happened and how impaired the girl was, a prosecutor said Wednesday in the opening statement of the teens' rape trial.

Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, both 16, are accused of sexually assaulting the girl at a series of end-of-summer parties in August and then bragging about it in cellphone texts, images and Internet postings, according to prosecutors.

The case received widespread attention nationally on allegations that defendants had posted images of the alleged abuse to social media sites.

Defense attorneys say the boys are innocent.

While they are minors, they have been identified in court by the judge and attorneys, and in newspapers and other media reports. CNN is not naming the 16-year-old girl in line with its policy of not identifying the alleged victims of sexual assault.

Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter detailed a string of degrading abuse she said the girl suffered at the hands of the boys, including having her clothes stripped off, having people offer to pay the boys money to urinate on her and ultimately sexual assault.

She said they had "treated her like a toy."

Some of the abuse was captured in cellphone images retrieved from either the Internet or their phones. One, Hemmeter said, showed the girl lying naked on her side, apparently asleep, with what appeared to be semen on her stomach.

Hemmeter said witnesses will testify that the girl was highly intoxicated -- stumbling, slurring her speech, at times unable to walk.

Such impairment, Hemmeter said, would be the state's focus in proving the allegations against Mays and Richmond -- not whether the girl consented.

The girl, Hemmeter said, was "too impaired to say no, too impaired to say stop."

In a brief opening statement, Mays' defense attorney told the judge that his client did not rape the girl. Richmond's attorney did not make a statement.

The case, which is being tried before Judge Thomas Lipps without a jury, has cast an unwelcome spotlight on Steubenville, a small, down-on-its-luck town along the banks of the Ohio River.

Social media

Photos, video and social media messages -- some of which the prosecutor displayed Wednesday in court -- are at the heart of criminal charges against Mays and Richmond.

Crime blogger Alexandria Goddard, a former Steubenville resident, discovered and preserved many of the online messages about the case, at least some of which are now in the hands of authorities. The girl's mother also gathered some of the material from social media and brought it to authorities.

One image circulated online and posted on a website maintained by Anonymous showed the girl, dressed in a T-shirt and blue shorts, her body limp, being held hand and foot by two males who appear to be teenagers.

Text messages posted to social networking sites that night seemed to brag about the incident, calling the girl "sloppy," making references to rape and suggesting that she had been urinated on, Goddard has said. CNN has not been able to establish whether this is true.

In one 12-minute video, a teenager who is not charged in the case jokes about the girl's condition, saying she must have died because she didn't move during one assault.

Police got involved on August 14, when the girl's mother reported the alleged assaults, according to Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty. The family provided a zip drive showing a Twitter page, possibly with a photo, McCafferty said.

Unwanted spotlight

The allegations -- and the shadow it has cast over the town -- have gripped the area for months.

The case has attracted the attention of bloggers and even Anonymous, a loosely organized cooperative of activist hackers, who have questioned everything from the behavior of the football team to the veracity of the investigation.

Steubenville was once a thriving steel mill town. With the mills closed, the town is a shadow of its former self as a number of its residents moved away to find work elsewhere and a number of businesses closed.

Today, its population is primarily blue collar with a median income between $33,000 and $34,000, well below the national average.

The Steubenville High School football games have long been a gathering point for residents, who point to the team's against-all-odds play that helped elevate its reputation in the state.

Critics have accused community leaders of trying to paper over rampant misconduct by players of the Steubenville High School team and have suggested that other students took part in the assaults or failed to do enough stop them.

While many residents express concern about the allegations against Mays and Richmond, they are also frustrated with how the town has been portrayed.

"We all want to see justice prevail for the victim and the defendants in this case. All of you are here today because you are doing your job and writing your story," Susan Hershey, the president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

"There (are), however, always multiple sides to every story. There is the other side of our community, a side that has been overshadowed by this incident. Unfortunately, our community has been painted with one very unflattering, broad brush."

 

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