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Rape trial garners worldwide attention

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio - The attention media and protesters garnered Wednesday morning outside of the Jefferson County Justice Center nearly rivaled the attention inside where two football players accused of raping a 16-year-old girl stood trial.

Satellite trucks from major networks set up camp in front of the justice center as attorneys, witnesses, family members -- of both the accused and the victim -- and priests filed in to the courthouse.

Inside, Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond, both 16, sat through the first day of their trial in the rape of a West Virginia girl who was too drunk to resist during an evening of partying in August.

"And quite pointedly your Honor, this case won't hinge on the defendants knowledge of her substantial impairment, but their exploitation of that knowledge when they treated her like a toy," said Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter during the trial.

Two 17-year-old-girls testified Wednesday.

One said the victim was having trouble walking and the other said she had never seen the victim so intoxicated.

A lawyer for Mays said his client did not rape the victim, the attorney for Richmond did not give an opening statement.

Outside, international media attention, such as the Times of London and Al Jazeera, and protestors from across the nation let the small river city of Steubenville know the world is watching.

Tom Ackerman, a reporter for Aljazeera says the interest in this case is worldwide.

"Al Jazeera has covered sexual violence all around the world including rape and gang rapes in India and other cases in Europe," Ackerman says. "The particular circumstances of this case in Steubenville merits world-wide attention."

Protestors claiming to be with the group "Anonymous" stood in front of the courthouse holding signs of support for the victim.

While they hid their identities with the group's signature look, a mask from the movie "V for Vendetta", they did not mask their opinion on the case and how they feel it's been handled.

"I feel, because it was football players ... that they intended to sweep it under the rug because they didn't want to disrupt their wonderful football team," said a female member of the group while protesting during the trial.

Jefferson County's sheriff says statements like that could not be further from the truth.

Sheriff Fred Abdalla says the Steubenville Police Department filed serious charges against the defendants and made the arrests before protest groups and the local media were even aware of the case.

The sheriff feels social media and the internet sparked a storm of rumors, innuendo and emotions but provided very few facts.

"I'm glad that the judge allowed this to be open to the public so that the whole world could find out what's going on here now," Abdalla tells 21 News. "Because if it wasn't open to the public and the press, there would have been more innuendo out there."

The sheriff says this case has become so heated that some have taken things way too far.

About a month and a half ago, someone threatened all the school and its children, he says.

"That's when I was upset, a month and a half ago," he says. "There were threats that came down, they came in to 'kill all the children.'

"Not some, but kill all the children at Big Red High School."

The sheriff says another threat came in that was similar and that had parents rushing to the school to pick up their children.

Information about the threats have been turned over to the Attorney General's office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A cousin of Richmond, one of the accused, says no matter what the outcome of this trial, he feels his 16-year-old cousin will be haunted and labeled forever.

"Twenty years from now, people are still going to point to this kid as a predator, as a rapist," Shawn Love says. 

The trial, which is being held in juvenile court, is expected to last at least three days and could extend into the weekend. At least 40 witnesses, and as many as 60, could be subpoened to testify.

A visiting judge from Cincinnati will render the verdict in the case instead of a jury.

 

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