STEUBENVILLE - Greg Agresta has a message to today's moms and dads: don't be your children's friend, be their parents.
Agresta is a Steubenville resident who has served as the legal guardian for Ma'Lik Richmond, a 16-year-old Steubenville High School student who had been on trial since Wednesday for raping a 16-year-old Weirton girl in August.
Richmond and his co-defendant, 17-year-old Trent Mays of Bloomingdale, were found guilty Sunday of raping the girl.
Defense attorney Walter Madison holds his client, Ma'Lik Richmond, as Judge Thomas Lipps pronounces a delinquent verdict on rape and other charges Sunday in Steubenville.
Mays also was found guilty of illegally using the girl in nudity-oriented material for having a picture of the victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone.
Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps announced the decision Sunday morning.
He sentenced the two teens to a minimum one year each in an Ohio Department of Youth Services facility, or until they are 21 years old. Mays received an additional year on the second charge, to be served after his rape sentence is complete.
Both defendants were taken into custody following the trial to await transport to the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility in Delaware, Ohio.
Lipps awarded the teens about two months credit for time already served in the juvenile system.
During sentencing, Lipps allowed the defendants and their family members to speak."There's a lesson everyone can learn from this - get involved in your children's lives," said Agresta, also a member of the Steubenville City Schools Board of Education. "Don't be their best friends."
Nathaniel Richmond, Ma'Lik Richmond's father, told the court how alcohol destroyed his own life, and how alcohol played a big role in the poor decisions made by his son and Mays.
"I just want to let everyone know that even though I wasn't there for my son, I feel responsible for his actions. I must help him heal and heal my community in some way to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," he said.
Richmond also apologized to the victim's parents for the actions of both boys.
After the verdict, the victim's mother rebuked Mays and Richmond for "lack of any moral code."
"You were your own accuser, through the social media that you chose to publish your criminal conduct on," she said. The case "does not define who my daughter is. She will persevere, grow and move on."
Wheeling attorney Robert Fitzsimmons, who represents the victim, also said there are "valuable lessons" to learn from the trial.
Following the verdict, both defendants apologized to the community and to the victim's family for their actions. Fitzsimmons said the apologies should have come sooner.
"The remorse did come late, in my opinion," he said during a press conference outside the Justice Center. "This thing may not have happened had somebody really approached the family in the beginning. I can say, absolutely, the family would have accepted ... apologies at that time."
Lipps' ruling ended four days of testimony in a case that has drawn international attention. Lipps touched on the role alcohol and social media played in the case.
"Many of the things that we learned during this trial that our children were saying and doing were profane, were ugly, with alcohol consumption shown as a particular danger to our teenage youth," Lipps said.
Mays and Richmond also could be required to register as sex offenders following their release.
The exact requirements will be determined later, but they may be forced to register with law enforcement.
The defendants became very emotional as Lipps announced his verdict, sobbing heavily. The boys' attorneys wrapped their arms around their shoulders to console them. Richmond walked across the courtroom to stand directly before the victim's family while he apologized.
He broke down, weeping uncontrollably, and court administrator Fred Abdalla Jr. consoled him as he led him back to the defense table.
The boys' parents also expressed their sorrow and regret over the pain the case has caused. After the judge exited the courtroom, the boys shared tearful hugs with their parents and other family members.
Lipps said the amount of time the defendants remain incarcerated beyond their minimum sentences will be determined by their attitude toward and how they embrace their rehabilitation.
The judge also shared his hope that this case will spark conversation between parents and children about social media and the dangers of underage drinking.
The Wheeling News-Register typically does not name juvenile defendants and had not done so in this case until the verdict.