STEUBENVILLE – Judge Thomas Lipps will issue a verdict at 10 a.m. today in the case of two Steubenville High School student-athletes accused of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl after a night of alcohol-fueled partying in August.
The prosecution and defense delivered impassioned closing arguments Saturday night after entering hundreds of pieces of evidence and listening to dozens of witnesses – including the alleged victim – offer hours of testimony that often lasted late into the night over the past four days inside the Jefferson County Justice Center.
Although the state had not yet rested its case, Saturday opened with Walter Madison, defense attorney for the 16-year-old defendant, calling his witnesses to the stand due to their availability.
Two current classmates and self-described former best friends of the Weirton girl testified that on the night of the alleged crime, they saw the alleged victim drinking liquor straight from the bottle and rolling around on the floor drunk. They also said they saw her speaking with the 16-year-old defendant at a party, while one added that the alleged victim was “all over him.” The witnesses said they attempted to prevent the girl from leaving with the defendants, but she refused to take their advice.
The alleged victim frequently drinks and suffers from alcohol-induced memory loss, the witnesses testified. The girl also has a reputation for lying, they said.
Kim Fromme, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas and Madison’s expert witness, listened to interviews and reviewed transcripts of witnesses’ testimony about how much alcohol the alleged victim drank on the night in question. She estimated that at the time of the rape, the girl’s blood-alcohol content was between 0.18 and 0.19 percent.
Accounting for the additional amount of alcohol the girl’s classmates said they saw her drink, she said the estimate could rise to between 0.21 and 0.25 percent. The legal limit for driving is 0.08 percent.
The girl’s symptoms – memory loss, slurred speech and impaired balance – indicate an alcohol-induced blackout, Fromme said. She noted, however, that people who have blacked out are still capable of functioning – making decisions and reacting to those around them.
True alcohol impairment is difficult for the average person to detect, Fromme added, especially if the person making the determination also has been drinking.
The state rebutted Fromme’s testimony with that of its expert witness, forensic toxicologist Laureen Marinetti, who said Fromme’s calculations relied on too many unknowns to be considered accurate. Marinetti pointed out that the amount of alcohol, its proof and the amount of any liquids used to dilute the alcohol was not precise, which could make a drastic difference in the girl’s blood-alcohol content.
Marinetti has testified in many cases of drug-facilitated sexual assault, and she said the most common drug consumed by assault victims is alcohol.
The alleged victim testified that her final memory of the night was leaving the party with the 17-year-old defendant. She had brought a bottle of vodka to a friend’s home and admitted to getting drunk prior to leaving.
She woke up the next morning naked on a couch in a home she did not recognize, with no recollection of what had transpired after she left the first party. She later recalled vomiting in the street on the night of the parties.
She related that she was scared, embarrassed and confounded. She said the 17-year-old defendant and another boy told her that she had been a “hassle” the previous night, and that they had taken care of her. The 16-year-old defendant was in the home as well, and the girl testified that she had never seen the boy prior to that morning and did not recall speaking to him on the previous night, as her classmates testified.
Over the next three days, she learned some details of the incident through social media, text messages and cell phone pictures. She later was sent a nude photo of herself sleeping on the couch. Saturday, however, was the first time she had seen a second nude photo that was taken at the alleged crime scene, prompting her to break down crying on the stand.
When the girl saw the first nude photo of herself, she said, she realized that the 17-year-old defendant’s assertion that he had taken care of her was not true. The two then started exchanging texts, with the boy sending a barrage of messages trying to dissuade the girl from taking the case to police. He also expressed concern about being suspended from the Big Red football team over the allegations.
The state rested following the testimony of the alleged victim. Visiting Judge Lipps opened the floor to Madison, who indicated he would rest his case, as did Adam Neeman, attorney for the 17-year-old defendant.
Ohio Assistant Attorney General Brian Deckert, acting as special prosecutor, told Lipps that the judge had all the elements needed to find the defendants guilty: eyewitness testimony to the rape, incriminating text messages and photos of the girl naked.
In his closing argument, Neeman said the idea that the girl was being raped by his client only minutes after she voluntarily left the party with the boy is implausible. He pointed out that another witnessed testified the pair were cuddling and kissing around the time of the alleged crime.
Madison argued that his client’s name was hardly mentioned during the reading of hundreds of text messages that were sent between teenagers following the alleged crime. He also described his client as an exceptional young man.
Ohio Assistant Attorney General Marianne Hemmeter asserted that the case was not about Internet videos, social media or even Big Red football, but about two teens taking advantage of an impaired girl.
“They took advantage of her because they knew she wouldn’t remember,” Hemmeter said. “She was the perfect victim.”