The verdict has already been made: Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond raped an intoxicated, 16-year-old girl at several parties after their football game last summer in Steubenville, Ohio. But as a grand jury hearing to potentially bring more charges looms over the town, the victim isn't getting much closure: The locals facing house arrest for threatening her online now have company in public shame — a prominent figure in town is calling into question the verdict and the victim's consent ,while fans of Big Red continue to support a coach who may have known about the whole thing and said nothing to the school. Here's how much the first chapter of the Steubenville rape saga refuses to close:
The 'Alleged' Victim
Royal Mayo doesn't just have the best name in Steubenville. The 40-year town resident is also the former president of Steubenville's chapter of the NAACP, a local leader in a time of local crisis under the national spotlight. And now he has been quoted as referring to the Jane Doe in a rape case with two guilty verdicts as the "alleged victim" in an interview with The International Business Times, which claims Mayo says the girl "might have been a willing participant":
Mayo described the 16-year-old girl as the “alleged victim” and said she might have been having consensual sex. “She said her mother brought her to the party, at 3 o’clock, with a bottle of vodka,” Mayo said. “Where did you get it, young lady? You brought it from home? Where’d you get it? You came to the party with your mother.”
Even if that was the case, of if the girl's parents knew she was getting drunk, that still wouldn't equal consent. But Mayo still doesn't fully believe the judge's verdict:
Mayo added that she might have been a willing participant, apparently unfazed by the inflammatory nature of such statements. “They’re alleging she got raped; she’s acknowledging that she wanted to leave with Trent. Her friends say she pushed them away as she went and got into the car, twice telling them, ‘I know what I’m doing; I’m going with Trent,’” Mayo said.
The "going with Trent" lines were also central to the defense strategy for Mays and Richmond, and they appear to be making the same argument — that the girl left with the boys, one of whom she may have liked, and, voila, consent, especially with all the drinking. But, again, getting into a car with someone you like does not mean that any sex that happens thereafter is legal. And so, the defense's strategy failed.
Mayo denied that he was blaming the victim in an interview Thursday with Sara Yingling of WTRF, the Ohio Valley's local CBS station, claiming that he "absolutely never said that."
The 'Inconclusive' Evidence Against Ma'lik Richmond
Mayo makes it very clear that he has doubts about whether the girl consented to sex, but he also believes that more boys than just Mays and Richmond should have gotten into trouble. Referring to Mark Cole, Anthony Craig, and Evan Westlake, the friends and teammates of the two boys who testified against them before and during the trial, Mayo asks the IBT:
If none of these guys had immunity from the beginning and one of them made a pornographic movie with his phone with two teenagers, the other two admitted to taking pornographic photos or nude photos of the girl, if they had no immunity or no deal with the prosecutors or police, how come they are not under arrest?
According to the IBT's Charles Poladian, Mayo seems believes that Richmond is innocent — or at least that "the evidence is, at best, inconclusive and, at worst, not credible" — despite what may or may not have happened:
Mayo emphasizes that Westlake’s comments were vague and indefinite.
“Now, he said, ‘It appeared that he did something,’ ‘It looked like’ and ‘I thought …’ He never said, ‘I was definite, and I’m 100 percent sure.’ And, out of the witnesses, he’s the only one that said that. The other guys said, ‘Ma’lik was behind her, I couldn’t tell, I couldn’t see anything,’ but he definitely saw it,” Mayo says.
Mayo did not explain what Richmond was doing to the victim, and his statements about Evan Westlake's testimony are not exactly true. During a pre-trial hearing, Westlake offered witness testimony, saying that he saw Richmond penetrate the girl with his fingers:
And he continued:
And from the actual rape trial this month, Yahoo's Dan Wetzel reported that Westlake described Richmond's sex act in more detail: "Laying behind her was another player, Ma'lik Richmond, whom Westlake testified he saw penetrating the girl with two fingers, 'halfway to the knuckle.'"
The IBT notes that Mayo has ties to the Richmond family and counseled Richmond when news of the attack broke. Richmond's attorney, Walter Madison (pictured with his client above), has said that he plans to appeal a guilty verdict based on Richmond's age, claiming that the now 17-year-old convicted rapist had a brain that "isn't fully developed."
The 'Caring' Coach
Reno Saccoccia, the powerful head coach of Steubenville High's powerful football team, continues to find himself in a precarious position. He has already faced criticism for not doing enough to punish his players who were directly involved — Richmond and Mays were suspended from the Big Red team around the time of their arrest in August, but Saccoccia did not suspend Westlake and Cole until eight games into the ten-game regular season.
But there's another important facet to Saccoccia's involvement in the ongoing case. During court testimony, it was revealed that Mays had sent this text message out on the day the victim and her parents finally filed a police report:
I got Reno. He took care of it and shit ain't gonna happen, even if they did take it to court. Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried.
It was also revealed that Mays had sent this text message the day after the attack:
Delete that off You-tube. Coach Sac knows about it. Seriously delete it.
If Mays was telling the truth in his text messages, then Saccoccia might have known about the attack — under Ohio law, he would have been obligated to come forward with that kind of knowledge to law enforcement. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has indicated that the main goal of a grand jury hearing that is about two weeks away is to determine if any other charges should be filed in connection with the incident and the parties after a pre-season Big Red football game last summer.
Despite what may look like evidence of a possible cover-up, the coach is enjoying support from Steubenville supporters. An online petition entitled "The Big Red Nation: Stand up and support Coach Reno Saccoccia" has over 500 signatures on Change.org, including testimonials like this:
And as blogger Rania Khalek reported, there was a rally planned for the coach this Saturday. The Facebook page for the rally has since been taken down, but Khalek grabbed messages from supporters, some of whom seem to be insisting that the attention focused on Saccoccia stems from jealousy about the success of the football team:
Meanwhile, another one of the multiple petitions on Change.org that's calling for Steubenville High to fire the coach has over 60,000 signatures. In its only public statement since the arrests in August, the Steubenville school system released a statement eight days ago about its employees and the investigation: "To the best of our knowledge, everyone associated with Steubenville City Schools students and employees – have cooperated, as we have encouraged them to do."
The teenage girls who were arrested just after the trial for threatening the rape victim online were released on house arrest on Wednesday. According to a local Fox affiliate another hearing in the threat case is scheduled for next week. DeWine, the attorney general, has promised to maintain surveillance on social media threats against the girl, and said that the grand jury he called will convene "on or around April 15."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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