Enter the Trial in Steubenville, Where the Cast Is Not Merely Football Players

The Atlantic Wire

The case of two high-school star football players accused of raping a 16-year-old girl as they travelled party to party last summer finally heads to trial on Wednesday morning in Steubenville, Ohio, the small fading steel town that became the focus of a social-media firestorm in big-time football country this winter. As the spotlight returns with open media access around but not inside Jefferson Country juvenile court, America will start putting faces to names that have been dragged through the headlines as violently as that Jane Doe from West Virginia allegedly was, while heavily intoxicated, on August 11. But a lot has happened since the hackers and leakers and protesters descended upon the town of 18,000 with a tortured past, beyond the shooting threats and the revoked scholarships and the FBI investigation — indeed, there were even developments late Tuesday night: The country may have looked elsewhere, but there's a new judge after ties to Big Red football forced yet another legal player to recuse himself, and the hackers have now returned to the social-media pile-on as investigations into police cover-ups have given way to actual prosecution in the courtroom, where the alleged victim might testify after all, her friends can now testify against her, and the suspects are already speaking out. Here's a who's-who ahead of a trial fomenting the American conversation on rape all over again, with perhaps a little bit too much Shakespearian Friday Night Lights intrigue for comfort:

RELATED: Inside the Search for the Truth About Steubenville — 1,000 Tips at a Time

The Accused: Trent Mays and Malik Richmond 

RELATED: The Steubenville 'Rape Crew' Trial Will Be on Display for the World to See

The Alleged Victim: Jane Doe (and Her Friends)

RELATED: The Steubenville Rape Saga Now Includes a Shooting Threat

The girl has faced her fair share of blame from residents of a divided Steubenville who say she is exaggerating the charges. The two attorneys for Mays filed a motion recently to subpoena three of her friends who have told police she had made plans to meet up with Mays after the game that night, somehow thereby proving consent. According to ABC, one friend who picked her up in the morning told police the following: "She and Trent were just lying on the couch together as if nothing happened. She looked hung over but then she got up and was completely fine." A West Virginia judge on Friday blocked the subpoenas from coming across state lines to nearby Steubenville... but after a hearing that went late into Tuesday night, local Steubenville stations WTOV and WTRF reported that the judge, Ronald Wilson of Hancock County, had reversed his decision in what's being seen as a major last-minute victory for the defense. In another eleventh-hour development, the Associated Press reported last week that the girl is not expected to testify, but the Times now says she still might. "We just want his over with and out of our lives," the girl's mother told Erica Goode and Nate Schweber of the Times.

The Defense: Walter Madison, Brian Duncan, and Adam Lee Neeman

View gallery

.
These three Ohio lawyers may be the most vocal — and, ultimately, reviled — players in the entire emotional case. Madison (far right) has been extremely outspoken in his defense of Richmond, telling the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Rachel Dissell that the alleged victim "didn't affirmatively say no" as she drank with, accompanied, and consented to her alleged attackers' dual advances. And that's just the during part of the three lawyers' three-pronged defense strategy that they've previewed in the local and national press this week. There's the before strategy, which will rely on the testimony of the victims' friends, which is now happening after Madison's appeal got accepted. And then comes the after: Of the blurred-out Instagram image that shows the girl dangling, Madison tells ABC that "the photo is what it is. The photo doesn't suggest that a person is substantially impaired, it just suggests that person's been carried." This argument is based on text messages the girl allegedly sent Mays the morning after, leading Madison to add to ABC's Vargas: We don't care what it looks like. We know that after the photo was taken she exhibited the ability to make decisions."

In a preview of scope of the dozens of witnesses expected to take the stand — this trial could take a while — Duncan (above at top left), one of two attorneys representing Mays, went further on just how central that Instagram photo and other social-media evidence may yet be: "We have witnesses," Duncan told ABC, "that are going to testify that the photograph was, in fact, staged." Otherwise, he said, the defense has "found it very difficult to find people willing to talk to us." ABC also says that police recovered two more photos from Mays's cellphone, and that along with the newly allowed testimony may give the defense a suddenly strong case that has been slow to reach public view — even if it seems ugly. Adam Nemann (above at bottom left), the other attorney for Mays, told the Times: "We're denying that there was any nonconsensual contact, period." In a separate interview with the Los Angeles Times, Nemann added, "These are young boys who were stupid.... There's probably a lot of indiscretion on her part as well."

The Prosecution: Brian Deckert and Marianne Hemmeter

View gallery

.
In addition to the civilian defense attorney for the alleged victim, prosecutors have stayed pretty mum in public. Hemmeter, a special prosecutor, has declined comment as far back as mid-December, when the first big Times story took the story national — if not quite viral, since it broke in the wake of the Newtown shootings. But Deckert, an Ohio associate assistant attorney general, replaced the other special prosecutor, Jennifer Brumby, on the same day protestors had taken up the case at a rally outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in January. Brumby, who immediately left the AG's office for a job in the private sector, was appointed by Jefferson County prosecutor Jane Hanlin (right), who recused herself shortly after the night in question. The hacker site Local Leaks has claimed that Hanlin negotiated special treatment from authorities for her son and for members of the Big Red football team.

The Judge: Thomas "Tom" Lipps

View gallery

.
All indications are that Lipps has and will continue to have extraordinary power in this case. Juvenile court in Ohio, like many states, does not have a jury, so the decisions here will fall to Lipps, who appears beyond qualified. His key decision thus far — to allow media access to the trial, despite the ages of the accused, and opposition from both the state attorney general's office and the family of the alleged victim — has actually been interpreted by some who think he is trying to make a public cause for sexual assault victims, and by others who say he is merely raising the spectre of such alleged crimes. He also threw out the kidnapping charge, despite arguments from Hemmeter that the alleged victim "was treated like a toy"; his response, according to the Ohio Valley's Wheeling News-Register, was more broad: ""The things that our children get involved in..."

Lipps stepped in on the case in August, after Jefferson Country juvenile judge Sam Kerr also recused himself because of ties to the football team. (Local Leaks claims that Kerr's secretary is the sister-in-law of famed Steubenville High football coach Reno Saccoccia — but, hey, it's a small town.) Either way, this guy knows what he's getting into — and he seems unbiased. Lipps came out of retirement for the case — and from out of town, near Cincinnati in Hamilton County juvenile court, where he worked for 37 years, reports Mark Law of the Ohio valley's Herald Star. Kerr said of his replacement, "He really is a perfect choice to handle this matter." An Ohio court of appeals judge went further: "There is nobody is the State of Ohio, and I mean including the legislators who wrote them, who knows the Juvenile Court laws better than Tom Lipps."

The Investigators: Fred Abdalla and William McCafferty

View gallery

.
The hackers in the case have made the Jefferson County Sheriff, Fred Abdalla (pictured at right), their main target — that he wasn't sympathetic to rape victims, that he ran a local gambling ring possibly involving the team, that he buddied up with the Big Red coach. Actually relevant to the case now at hand may be accusations from the hacking group Local Leaks, by way of anonymous tips from in and around Steubenville, that Abdalla "was tasked with retrieving the cell phones and other electronic gear from the football players and other students involved" and that "several KEY pieces of video and photographic evidence were 'inadvertently' deleted by the Sheriff and his deputies."

That made for an intriguing narrative on social media earlier this winter, especially after the town police chief in Steubenville, William McCafferty, told the Times in the fall that he had "pleaded" with other witnesses at the party to come forward with evidence that was being passed around on local social media — even as no one came forward. The dual police investigations, though, led to evidence that has been under wraps by the prosecution and should now come out — the extra cellphone photos on Mays's phone and undoubtedly more. Despite Abdalla's personal run-in with Anonymous, McCafferty himself now says, in the story in today's Times, that he, too, was hacked, underwear photos and all.

Perhaps most importantly, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine now tells the Times that his office had investigated the investigation for months and could now firmly conclude that the Steubenville rape case was conspiracy-free when it came to law enforcement: "There's no evidence that the prosecutor is involved in a cover-up, and there’s no evidence that the police are involved in a cover-up."

The "Rape Crew": Mark Cole, Anthony Craig, and Evan Westlake (and Cody Saltsman and Mike Nodianos)

The moniker comes straight from the hackers, but the peripheral Steubenville High athletes will factor in to the public perception of this trial in the weeks to come because they have all been involved legally at one point or another. Indeed, perhaps the other big conclusion of late to come out of the AG's office from DeWine regarded the trio of Cole, Craig, and Westlake: The three testified at a pre-trial hearing before Lipps in October, providing lengthy testimony detailed in extensive notes from local media that would seem to counter the defense's case that the alleged victim had consented — Cole said he drove the accused and the girl in his car but that she "was just sitting there, not really doing anything"; Craig said he saw the victim passed out on the floor and witnessed Mays expose himself and Richmond penetrate her with his fingers; and Westlake's testimony seems to directly refute the defense's arguments about the Instagram photo, saying he saw the "defendants carry the alleged victim out of the house by her hands and feet." DeWine soaked in all those details and suddenly refuted reports that his office had granted the three players an immunity deal. He has since said that the testimony could not be held against them in this trial, though it will most certainly be used as evidence in the courtroom.

Saltsman, widely assumed to be the alleged victim's ex-boyfriend who took the Instagram photo, sued local blogger Alexandra Goddard for defamation after she posted Twitter messages, Instagram photos, and videos of the incident. That lawsuit was eventually settled with an apology from Saltsman, and Goddard is back on her media tour, appearing on the 20/20 segment and in an upcoming story in The New Yorker, according to the Times

Nodianos, meanwhile, is perhaps the most famous public face of the entire case — despite not being directly involved in the trial yet. He was the star of a graphic and tasteless 12-minute video that went viral after hackers unearthed his comments about the Jane Doe, including quotes like this: "She is so raped right now!"

The Hackers: KY Anonymous and Local Leaks

The member of the hacking collective Anonymous most associated with fanning the Steubenville flames on social media is no longer Tweeting out information about the case from that handle. A majority of that victim-friendly information came from Local Leaks, the upstart hacker site that quickly became devoted to the Steubenville case, sifting through hundreds of emails with a corroboration/fact-checking process that, as they told The Atlantic Wire at the time, the hackers were inventing "on the fly." Then, as the case disappeared from the spotlight and lawyers prepared real evidence, the Local Leaks site went dark.

On Tuesday night the hackers re-emerged with a press release pointing to their new site, where they say weeks of research amounted to: connecting "Abdalla and a member of the Gambino organized crime family," hacked voicemails in Nodianos's inbox from a bunch of school administrators and supportive locals and reporters, and, well, "numerous reports from women who live in Steubenville of being sexually harassed, stalked — and even raped by active-duty Steubenville police officers."

The Protestors

View gallery

.

(Occupy Steubenville protestors outside the Jefferson County Courthouse on January 5, when County Sheriff Fred Abdalla stepped into the protest and took on Anonymous, despite attempts by Local Leaks to paint him as the mastermind behind a cover-up. Photos by Drew Singer/Reuters)

View gallery

.
After each of three monthly rallies got increasingly heated, hundreds of Occupy Steubenville protestors are expected to return outside the courthouse on Wednesday at 11 a.m local time. And the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence along with "national counterparts will use the spotlight to highlight issues in real time and react to statements in and around the courthouse" — a strategy that mirrors the success of anti-sexual assault rights groups during the Jerry Sandusky trial, reports the Plain-Dealer. So there may not be cellphones or iPads or laptops allowed inside, but this rape trial will be tweeted, and loud.

The Town: Steubenville, Ohio (pop. 18,440)

View gallery

.

(Harding Stadium, home of Big Red football. With Mays and Richmond locked in a juvenile detention facility, Steubenville High finished the season 9-3 after losing in the regional quarterfinals for the second year in a row. Photo by Jason Cohn/Reuters)

It's a narrative not unfamiliar to cases like this: a media spotlight changes the definition of a place that may not be remembered for anything else than a big trial ever again. And while it's not quite the town-and-gown divide of, say, the 2006 Duke lacrosse case that eventually found players vindicated after their faces were plastered across the front page of the Times and the cover of Newsweek, well, the Steubenville area is split: The residents have become rape-aware, reports the L.A. Times, even as The Daily Beast found a "disturbing" divide among the pro-Anonymous crowd and the Steubenville Facts-pushing locals led by the town city manager, Cathy Davidson, who has been pressing back against the hackers and the perception that "everyone in Steubenville is acting or is like the individuals that are involved in the case. That we are a community that is run by football. That is not the case." In a nearby suburb of Wintersville, resident Chasidy Corder tells a different story to NPR: "I don't understand how football came to be so much more important than being a human being and respecting people," Corder says. "It's crazy. This town is nothing anymore. They have Big Red football and it's a really big thing."

There is a palpable and growing local denouncement of media coverage as it descends for the trial, even comparisons to Nazi Germany and all. But make no mistake: the eyes and ears of a nation are coming back to Steubenville — judges orders. "We'll get through it," one local told NBC affiliate WFMJ. "Steubenville is a strong town."

View Comments