Rape Trial Will Be in Open Court

STEUBENVILLE – Visiting Juvenile Judge Thomas Lipps ruled Wednesday that the trial for two Steubenville High School student-athletes accused of rape will be held in open court.

Lipps also ruled on several other motions in the case, granting a defense request for Jefferson County Juvenile Court to fund the hiring of a private investigator to help in the defense preparation of one of two boys. Lipps granted up to $2,500 plus travel expenses for an investigator.

The two 16-year-olds are charged with rape in an Aug. 11-12 incident. One of them also faces a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for allegedly having a picture of the victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone. Attorneys for both defendants have denied the charges.

Attorney Walter Madison, representing one defendant, had asked Lipps during a hearing Friday to allow the court to pay for an investigator even though the attorney has been retained in the case. Madison argued the attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, has had the help of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in interviewing witnesses. Madison said Friday that BCI interviewed 86 witnesses in a week.

“Despite the fact the defendant or someone on his behalf has retained private counsel, it appears the defendant is indigent under the law as only the defendant’s income is measured in the determination of indigency. The defendant is presently a high school student without apparent personal income,” Lipps ruled, noting the investigator will be engaged by Madison through the Ohio Public Defender’s Office.

Lipps also said the case will remain open to the public and the press, will stay in Jefferson County and that the trial has been continued until March 13. The original date for the start of the trial was Feb. 13. Lipps noted in his ruling regarding open proceedings that the names of the defendants and some details of the case have already been made public.

“Responsible media presence will mean more accurate reporting, as an opportunity to view testimony under oath and observe the scrutiny of cross-examination is superior to the suppositions of persons holding opinions in this matter,” Lipps said. “Though possibly embarrassing to the defendants, alleged victim, family, friends and the community, the allegations and the alleged facts of this matter are a matter of community interest, and it is likely that discussion and debate will occur in any event. A transparent and open hearing and determination of the issues enhances the public confidence in the juvenile justice system. In this case the public interest in attending and reporting details of the hearings outweighs the defendant’s and the alleged victim’s interests in having the proceedings closed to the public.”

Regarding a change of venue, Lipps said such a request is usually made when there is a question of seating an impartial jury.

“However … the trial is not before a jury, is a juvenile delinquency hearing and the presiding judge is from a distant county with no local ties who has avoided media reports concerning the case,” Lipps said as he denied the motion.

“The court is confident in the Jefferson County sheriff’s ability to provide security for the court, defendants, witnesses and other persons connected with this matter,” Lipps added.

Madison also asked Lipps on Friday to have the alleged 16-year-old female victim referred to as the “accuser.” But Marriane Hemmeter, Ohio Attorney General special prosecutor, said the Attorney General’s Office is the accuser.

Lipps agreed with Hemmeter and ruled that the girl will be referred to as the “alleged victim.”