40 witnesses expected at Steubenville High School rape trial

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio - At least 40 witnesses could testify at the upcoming trial of two high school football players charged with raping a 16-year-old girl in eastern Ohio last year, and the case will likely last three or more days and stretch into a weekend, a court official said Wednesday.

The trial is open to the public and TV coverage is being permitted, but witnesses will have the option to decline to be photographed or recorded, said Fred Abdalla Jr., chief probation officer for Jefferson County Juvenile Court.

The briefing for more than a dozen reporters was a sign of the publicity surrounding the case -- unprecedented in the small city of Steubenville -- as court officials prepare for a trial that has attracted international attention.

Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, are accused of attacking the girl after a party in August, with Mays accused of raping the girl in the backseat of a moving car and Richmond in the basement of a house. Both are fighting the charges. Witnesses have testified the girl was drunk, having trouble walking and largely unresponsive at the time of the attacks.

Heightening interest in the case was the presence of other students both in the car and in the basement, with their testimony key to the prosecution. Three witnesses testified about the attack at a court hearing last fall, and two of them acknowledged they had taken video or photographic images of the attacks.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has told lawyers for the three they won't be prosecuted. Prosecutors at the fall hearing told the two boys who took images of the attacks that they would have been charged if those images were found.

A 12-minute video that surfaced on YouTube after the attack featuring a drunken student making jokes about the attack while others in the background chimed in led to criticism that more people should have been charged if they had knowledge that the rape had happened.

Hacker-activist groups including Anonymous led the charge through social media in claiming a cover-up by police because of the football team's popularity. Police and other authorities deny such allegations and point out the two students were arrested and charged within days of the alleged attack.

On Wednesday, Abdalla said special prosecutors appointed by DeWine have subpoenaed 28 witnesses and a defense attorney has subpoenaed another 12, with more defense subpoenas expected. Not all would necessarily testify, Abdalla said.

Abdalla said his priorities are finding enough seating in the small courtroom for the victim's family and the families of the defendants, followed by the media and the public. The victim is from nearby Weirton, W.Va.

Judge Thomas Lipps has previously ruled to keep the case open, although each witness will be asked if he wants to be photographed or recorded. All three of the student witnesses declined to be photographed or recorded at the October hearing.

Lipps won't allow Tweeting during the trial, Abdalla said.

Lipps is expected to decide before the trial whether any live streaming TV coverage of the hearing will be permitted, and whether a sketch artist could portray witnesses without showing their faces.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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