Ohio rape victim too drunk to consent to sex, prosecution says

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio Wed Mar 13, 2013 7:58pm EDT

A small group of people take part in a protest outside the Juvenile Court building in Steubenville, Ohio, March 13, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

A small group of people take part in a protest outside the Juvenile Court building in Steubenville, Ohio, March 13, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Cohn

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) - Two Ohio high school football players sexually assaulted a young girl when she was too drunk to protest last August, a prosecutor said on Wednesday in an opening statement of a case that went viral on social media when photos and a video of the alcohol-fueled party were posted.

Steubenville, Ohio, quarterback Trent Mays and wide receiver Ma'lik Richmond, both 16 at the time of the incident, are accused of raping a classmate as she lay naked on the basement floor, too drunk to move or speak. The girl told police she did not remember what happened, but reported the incident the next day.

It is Reuters policy not to name rape victims.

The rape case in the Ohio steel town of Steubenville has drawn national attention and computer hacking group Anonymous organized protests accusing the town of covering up the involvement of more players. The criticism has stunned Steubenville, which looks with pride on its perennial powerhouse "Big Red" football team.

On the first day of the trial in Jefferson County Court, prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter told the judge who will decide the case that evidence of the alleged rape would include social media pictures and postings, including that the girl was too drunk to make a decision about her welfare.

"You will have to piece it together much in the way (the victim) had to piece it together," she told the court.

A defense lawyer said the circumstances are different than what has been said on social media and by the prosecution. Lawyers for the boys say the sex was consensual and that the victim had told friends in advance that she wanted to have sex with the players.

"Mays did not rape this girl," said Adam Nemann, who is representing the quarterback.

If convicted, Mays and Richmond could have to stay at a juvenile detention facility until they turn 21 and then have to register as sex offenders.

The prosecution called two witnesses during the morning session, both girls who knew the victim. Julia Lefever, 17, said she drank vodka with the victim on the night of the party and saw the victim drink at least one beer.

After midnight football player Mays and the victim, looking drunk but saying she was OK, left the party despite Lefever's efforts to stop her.

"Trent said she'd be fine. He kept saying she would be OK," Lefever testified.

Lefever then went home and watched on social media as accounts of what went on were posted. She testified that she picked up the victim the next morning at the house looking disheveled. The victim began crying and said she did not remember what had happened.

Another defense lawyer, Walter Madison, said the victim's responses that she was OK when her friends tried to stop her from leaving suggested she was able to make decisions.

"Does that sound like a person who has no idea what is going on?" Madison, who is representing Richmond, asked at one point during the testimony.

During afternoon testimony, Jake Howarth, whose basement is where the rape is alleged to have occurred, said the victim "seemed very drunk" when she arrived at his home.

But Madison questioned whether Howarth had firsthand knowledge of the girl's impairment or whether he was repeating a conclusion about her condition that has proliferated on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites since the case's outset.

Defense attorneys say that separating fact from media-fueled rumor is critical in the case because the girl remembers almost nothing from the night.

Outside the courthouse on Wednesday, a handful of people wearing white masks representing Anonymous held signs such as: "Stop blaming the victim. The world is watching," "Stop Sexual Violence" and "This is something you just can't get away with."

(Reporting by Drew Singer; Editing by James B. Kelleher, Greg McCune, Tim Dobbyn, Eric Walsh and Lisa Shumaker)