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Two teenage football players went to trial on charges of raping a 16-year-old girl, in a case that divided a small US town after activists publicised tweets and a video posted the night of the alleged attack.
The rape case has deeply shaken the Ohio community amid allegations that more students should have been charged. It also has led to questions about the influence of the local football team, a source of a pride in a community that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the regional steel industry.
The trial's first day on Wednesday became a contest between prosecutors determined to show the girl was so drunk she couldn't have been a willing participant and defence attorneys trying to show that the girl, though drunk, knew what she was doing.
The girl who says she was raped by two school football players after an alcohol-fuelled party. She was “substantially impaired” and was unable to consent to sex and suffered humiliation and degradation, Special Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said in her opening statement.
But a lawyer for defendant Trent Mays said his 17-year-old client “did not rape the young lady in question.”
The attorney for Mays' co-defendant, for Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, gave no opening statement.
Richmond and Mays are charged with digitally assaulting the girl, first in the back seat of a moving car after the party on August 11 and then in the basement of a house. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
The two were charged 10 days after the party, after a flurry of social media postings about the alleged attack led the girl and her family to go to Steubenville police.
Hacker activists have publicised tweets and other social media postings made the night of the alleged rape, including a 12-minute video in which one student joked about the alleged attack while others in the background chimed in.
The National Organisation of Women has demanded that the student be charged under the state's “failure to report” law. Attorney General Mike DeWine has called the video disgusting, but said the student didn't have firsthand knowledge of the alleged assaults.
Witnesses said the girl was so drunk she threw up at least twice and had trouble walking and speaking. She was also photographed being carried by the two young men.
In an excerpt of a videotaped interview with ABC, Richmond said the photo was a joke. He contends the girl was awake and was a willing participant, the show said.
One teen, Julia Lefever, said in court on Wednesday that she had never seen her friend so intoxicated. She said she and the alleged victim were drinking an ice drink they laced with vodka they brought to the party, and her friend later drank a beer.
One student, Elayna Andres, said the girl was having trouble walking but never appeared to pass out.
“She went over by the door and she stumbled, and that's when the boys picked her up,” she said. “She was conscious, but she couldn't lift her head.”
If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21. They have denied any wrongdoing.
The Associated Press normally does not identify minors charged in juvenile court, but Mays and Richmond have been widely identified in news coverage, and their names have been used in open court.
Steubenville officials have protested that outsiders have unfairly criticised police handling of the case and have given the town a bad reputation. Officials created a website to counter misinformation about the case, refuting, for example, the allegation that the police department is full of ex-football players from the local team.
Bob Fitzsimmons, a lawyer for the girl's family, said, “The family wants this matter over so they can move on with their lives and their daughter's healing.” - Sapa-AP