Steubenville Rape Trial Begins Wednesday

STEUBENVILLE (AP) – Two football players go on trial this week on charges of raping a nearly passed-out-drunk 16-year-old girl during a night of partying in Steubenville. Around the football-powerhouse city, some are demanding to know why at least three other teens aren’t facing charges, too.

After the athletes’ arrest last summer, one of the many rumors that swirled around town proved all too true: Three boys, two of them members of Steubenville High’s Big Red team, saw something happening that night and didn’t try to stop it.

Instead, two pulled out their cellphones and took video and a photo.

The allegations shocked and roiled the city of 18,000, but prosecutors brought no charges against the witnesses, fueling months of furious online accusations of a cover-up to protect the team – something law enforcement authorities have vehemently denied.

One blogger wrote a post headlined: “Steubenville Big Red Rape Accusations: The Other Perpetrators.”

“Anyone that they can show had firsthand knowledge and was partly in some way responsible for the event, the rape, they should be charged,” said Jackie Hillyer, president of the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for Women.

She is among those pressing for charges of failure to report a crime, which is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.

Longtime Steubenville resident Willa Wade said: “I feel personally that if they were there, they knew it had happened, they did not report it or stop it, then they ought to be brought up on the same charges as anybody else.”

The Ohio attorney general’s office, however, told the three witnesses in a letter last fall that while they may not have conducted themselves “in a responsible or appropriate manner,” their behavior “did not rise to the level of criminal conduct,” and they would not be charged.

Legal experts said it is clear prosecutors sorely need the witnesses’ testimony to make their rape case because there is little physical evidence against the defendants and the girl may have been too intoxicated to remember much.

“This prosecutor more than anything else wants to get a conviction of the culprits and he does not want to jeopardize that single-minded goal,” said Christo Lassiter, a University of Cincinnati criminal law professor. “That’s the conservative approach. Above all else, get the main culprit. If you can get the other folks along the line, fine.”

The trial against the two Steubenville teens is set to begin Wednesday in juvenile court in Steubenville. They are charged with rape.

If convicted, they could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21. They have denied any wrongdoing.

The scandal brought a barrage of accusations and insinuations, mostly online, with some townspeople supporting the defendants and others complaining that the football team has unusual sway over the city. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office took over the case after the Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin stepped down because her son is a football player at Steubenville High.

Three students testified at a hearing in October, just days after receiving the letters assuring them they would not be prosecuted.

Prosecutors said at the hearing that two of the students would have been charged if they hadn’t deleted the images on their cellphones.

At the same proceeding, one of the students was asked by a prosecutor why he didn’t stop the alleged attack.

“I was stunned at what I saw,” he said. “I just wanted – I wanted to get out of there and I -I – I didn’t know what to do, I mean.”

The defendants’ lawyers also raised the possibility that the witnesses did not know what they were seeing that night. Under questioning, the teen witnesses said that the girl was able to tell some of the boys the password to her smartphone and that they never heard her say “no” or “stop.”

Some also are calling on charges to be filed against the 18-year-old male who made a 12-minute video that was posted online.