Teen eyewitnesses testify at Ohio rape trial

Saturday - 3/16/2013, 3:06am EDT

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
AP Legal Affairs Writer

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- A judge granted three teenagers immunity from prosecution Friday before they agreed to testify about the alleged sexual assault of a drunken 16-year-old girl after a party in eastern Ohio last summer.

Mark Cole, Evan Westlake and Anthony Craig invoked their Fifth Amendment right against testifying for fear of self-incrimination as the trial in Steubenville entered its third day. Their testimony is a crucial part of the state's evidence because the West Virginia girl says she doesn't remember what happened.

Football players Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, are charged with digitally penetrating the girl early Aug. 12, first in a car and then in the basement of a house. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. The two maintain their innocence.

Testimony in the trial wrapped up late Friday as a judge, who's hearing the case without a jury, pushed to finish the unprecedented case, which is continuing through the weekend. The accuser was expected to testify Saturday.

The case so far has featured disturbing testimony from teens, both in person and in graphic text messages, and has cast an unwelcome light on what students in the community once considered rapid-fire but private conversations.

The three teen witnesses granted immunity, as well as other teens who testified, winced at times Friday as they were forced to read adult language in texts sent several months.

Cole testified Friday that he took a video of Mays and the girl in the car, then deleted it. Westlake testified he saw Richmond's encounter with the girl in the basement. Craig testified about two photos of the alleged basement attack that he also deleted.

The case has riveted the small city of Steubenville amid allegations that more students should have been charged and led to questions about the influence of the local football team, a source of a pride in a community that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the steel industry.

If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21.

Cole, 17, testified that he filmed Mays digitally penetrate the girl in the car. A prosecutor asked him why he then deleted the video later that morning.

"It was one of those moments when you realize you did something stupid and wrong that night, so I deleted it," Cole replied.

Cole testified he saw Mays unsuccessfully try to have the girl perform oral sex on him later in the basement of Cole's house. Cole also testified that the girl was intoxicated and slurring her words.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Walter Madison suggested that the girl was behaving no differently than anyone else the night of the party.

Cole testified he saw Mays and the girl asleep under a blanket on the couch later in the morning.

"Did anybody behave in a way to make you think that something was wrong?" Madison, Richmond's attorney, asked.

"No," Cole said.

Westlake, the second witness granted immunity, testified that he saw Richmond digitally penetrate the girl in the basement of Cole's house.

"Was she moving?" special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter asked.

"Not at this time," Westlake said.

"Was she talking?" Hemmeter asked.

"I didn't hear anything," Westlake said.

Westlake said the girl appeared to be "pretty drunk" after a large party earlier that night. But he also testified that before the alleged attack he saw Mays and the girl cuddling, hugging and kissing in Cole's car.

Westlake also confirmed that he filmed a 12-minute video -- later passed around widely online -- in which another student, Michael Nodianos, joked about the attack. Women's rights groups have demanded that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine charge Nodianos with failure to report a crime. DeWine has so far refused to say what he'll do.

Westlake said he deeply regrets his actions that night.

Craig testified that he saw Richmond's hand in the "crotch region" of the girl, a less descriptive version than he gave last fall in another hearing.

Craig also confirmed he received a text message from the girl the next day in which she said "I remember hearing Trent's voice telling me to do something, but I said, 'No.'"

A 16-year-old student testified that she tried to persuade the girl to leave with her and not stay at the party.

Farah Marcino said the girl brushed off her attempts. "She actually hit one of my friends and said she did not want to go," Marcino said.