The latest update from the courtroom in Steubenville, Ohio, where two high-school football players face charges related to raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl, reinforces the idea that this little Ohio town is stranger than fiction. A state investigator, in hours-long testimony on a marathon second day at Jefferson County Juvenile Court on Thursday afternoon, read aloud from print-outs of text messages sent by students and the main players in the case from that fateful night and later recovered by police. She testified that one of the defendants, Trent Mays, told a friend via texts that Steubenville High's increasingly infamous Big Red football coach, Reno Saccoccia, said he'd keep the boys out of trouble. "I got Reno. He took care of it and sh-- ain't gonna happen, even if they did take it to court," read the text, according to Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent Joann Gibbs. If that's not a scene straight out of Friday Night Lights, we're not sure what is. And not the watered-down TV version either. This is like the slightly more sinister movie version.
For the readers out there that aren't FNL fans, let us distill the metaphor. Like the fictional versions of Dillan and Odessa, Texas, Steubenville is largely regarded as a football town. And we're not talking about a town that likes football. We're talking about a town that revolves around football, a town where the head coach may as well be mayor and the players operate under a different set of rules. The running narrative regarding Saccoccia has always been that he intervened early on in the scandal and tried to cover up his players' alleged crimes. The texts revealed on Thursday would confirm this interpretation.
However, others suggest that Saccoccia's involvement in the case is much more troubling. According to LocalLeaks, a project championed by Anonymous, Steubenville's football coach not only goes to great lengths to protect his players, he's also deeply intertwined with the local government. The site says that Saccoccia is "one of the most powerful people in Steubenville" and his connections to top local leaders suggests as much. "Reno Saccoccia's sister in law, Marguierete Clark - is the secretary for the juvenile court Judge Kerr," reads LocalLeaks profile. (That's part of the reason Judge Kerr recused himself in favor of the current judge on the case.) "Coach Saccoccia is actually employed as a mediator in juvenile court system!" So when he said he "took care of it," it would appear he wasn't bluffing. Saccoccia had previously said in an interview that he didn't "do the Internet" and hadn't seen the photographs and comments from the night in question, August 11 of last year.
Gibbs went on to reveal more horrifying texts from the morning after the incident. Beyond those from the defendants that show they panicked in the days after the night of the alleged rape, there are a couple of heartbreaking texts from the victim herself, from August 12. "What the f---. Who was there? What happened to me?" she asked a friend. "I swear to God I don't remembers anything. I remember at one point hearing (the 17-year-old defendant) telling me to do something, but I said no." While it remains unclear exactly what happened that night, it doesn't sound good based on an email that the alleged victim sent a few days later. "Why the f--- would you let that happen to me?" she said. "Seriously, you have no f----- respect."
The day after also revealed a log from Mays, the quarterback suspect, according to more texts read aloud on the record Thursday in court:
On Aug. 12, a friend asked Trent in a text if he had sex with her.
He texted back: "Yep."
He later told another friend that the girl came to the party, brought food and had sex. "She knew what's up."
The other teen texted: "You're a felon."
"Not really," Trent replied.
Trent said in another text that "I shoulda raped now that everybody thinks I did" but that the girl "wasn't awake enough."
Mays also apparently contacted the alleged victim's father by text message that day:
"This is all a big misunderstanding." He tells the man his daughter was drunk and they gave her a place to stay. "I never tried once to do something forcefully with your daughter. But I am sorry for all the trouble this has caused."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.