Three On Witness List Get Immunity

STEUBENVILLE – Judge Thomas Lipps on Friday granted immunity from prosecution to three Steubenville High School students who went on to testify that they witnessed two of their classmates rape a 16-year-old girl in August.

Each of the witnesses, two of whom admitted during a hearing in October to recording or photographing the alleged crime, appeared in court with attorneys. When asked about the events of Aug. 11-12, each of the boys invoked their Fifth Amendment rights.

The prosecution then moved to compel their testimony, which Lipps granted because the boys reportedly witnessed a crime of which the alleged victim has no recollection. Therefore, the judge assured the witnesses they could not be prosecuted for any crimes they might admit to committing.

One of the witnesses used his cell phone to record the 17-year-old defendant touching the alleged victim in a sexual manner while in the back seat of a car, the witness said. At that time, the girl’s words were unintelligible, he pointed out. He also had seen her stumbling earlier that night.

When they arrived at the next home, he witnessed the 17-year-old defendant try to force the girl, who was naked on the floor, to perform a sex act on him. The girl was motionless and silent, the witness said.

“Seriously dude, don’t … rape her,” he later warned the 17-year-old defendant in a text message, which was read aloud in court Friday.

Another boy testified that while the girl was naked on the floor of that home, he saw the 16-year-old defendant touch her in a sexual manner. He testified that he was in disbelief, but did nothing to try to stop the alleged crime.

“It wasn’t violent,” the witness recalled. “I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing on someone.”

A third witness said he saw the victim throw up in the street that night and arrived at a home to see her with her “head in the toilet.” He testified that he captured a cell phone picture of the defendants around the naked girl while at the same home.

He represented to the prosecution that he told the defendants to stop, but he soon left. The witness later sent a text message to someone that read “Bro, they’re gonna rape that girl.”

The second and third witnesses described what they saw to a group of teenagers at another home, where the reference to the girl being “dead” began.

That home was also where the second witness used his cell phone to record a notorious video of a young man speaking callously about the girl. The second witness then uploaded the video to the Internet, he said.

“I felt a lot of regret,” the witness recalled. “It was difficult to face my family, the people that have always supported me, knowing they know what I had done.”

Heather Bizub, an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation forensic scientist, analyzed the DNA that was recovered from a blanket witnesses said the 17-year-old defendant and the alleged victim shared on the night of the crime. That blanket, Bizub testified, contained traces of the 17-year-old defendant’s semen.

Bizub also identified a single sperm cell that was located on the inside of the shorts the girl was wearing that night, even though they had since been cleaned. Bizub was unable to identify the source of that cell, however.

A 16-year-old Steuben-ville High School student testified that she stayed at the same home as the victim and the defendants, but did not witness any sexual contact between them. When she woke the next morning, the alleged victim was undressed and the girl had to assist her with her bra, the witness recalled.

“I woke up naked – like I have no memory at all,” the alleged victim reportedly wrote in a Twitter message to the girl days after the incident. “It’s scary not knowing.”

In her text messages with the 17-year-old defendant, which also were read in court Friday, the boy reported that he touched the alleged victim inappropriately.

The defendant also related that Big Red head football coach Reno Saccoccia questioned him about the alleged crime. The boy, however, felt as if the coach “took care of it – like (Saccoccia) was joking about it so I’m not that worried,” according to the defendant’s text message.

BCI Agent J.P. Rigaud was serving as the Steubenville Police Department’s sole juvenile detective when the victim’s parents reported the alleged crime to police on Aug. 14. He recalled that the teens associated with the case were fearful of potential consequences and uncooperative with police.

He also testified that missing from the numerous cell phones that were seized were those of the 16-year-old defendant and the alleged victim. The girl’s phone was missing on the morning after the alleged crime, along with the underwear she was wearing that night. That garment was never located.

Testimony will resume at 8:30 a.m. today.