Steubenville Rape Trial: Texts from witnesses, defendant describe alleged victim as "dead"
(CBS) - Text messages describing an alleged 16-year-old rape victim as so drunk she seemed "dead" were read in a Steubenville, Ohio courtroom Thursday.
Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, are accused of digitally penetrating the girl in the back seat of a car and in the basement of a house during a night of partying last August. The teens have pleaded not guilty.
In the first day of testimony on Wednesday, four witnesses testified about the alleged victim's level of intoxication, with some saying they saw her having trouble walking, speaking and holding her head up, and others saying she vomited multiple times.
Prosecutors allege that the girl was "substantially impaired" from drinking alcohol and unable to consent to sex. The defense argues she was drunk, but capable of making decisions.
Joann Gibbs, the state's forensic investigator, testified Thursday about information found on the cell phones of the defendants, the alleged victim and witnesses. She read multiple texts from party-goers aloud in court, including several that described the girl as "dead."
The New York Times reports that Mays sent a text saying that the girl was "like a dead body" and that he didn't try to have oral sex with her because she would have vomited.
A video that surfaced in January also depicted an Ohio teen laughing about the incident and referring to the girl as "dead" and "so raped."
Richmond's defense attorney, Walter Madison, questioned the accuracy of the teens' recollections, raising the idea that once the incident started to take on a life of its own in social media, that could have shaped their memories of the night.
With his questioning, Madison seemed to be attempting to show that what happened between the defendants and the alleged victim was just part of teen life - that whoever becomes the drunkest at the party becomes the butt of the joke.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that texts from the alleged victim were also read: "... Who was there? What happened to me?," she says in one. "I wasn't being a slut. They were taking advantage of me," she says in another, according to the Times.
The Plain Dealer also reports that a boy at the party texted her saying, "You were like you were dead...I seriously felt so bad and couldn't do anything about it."
Gibbs read a text message from Mays in which he said he penetrated the girl with his fingers, according to the New York Times. And in another, Mays indicated that his football coach, Reno Saccoccia, knew about the incident and the teen believed he would "take care of it."
The Plain Dealer reports that texts from Mays indicate he sent nude photos of the girl to his friends and joked about the incident, but later asked a friend to cover for him and say they just gave the girl a place to sleep that night.
Gibbs read a text message from Mays saying that "if they press charges, they are going to look at all my texts," reports the Times. To which an acquaintance reportedly replied: "Delete them."
Text messages from Mays to the alleged victim's father were also read in court, according to the Plain Dealer. One read, "This is all a big misunderstanding." Another: "I never tried once to do something forcefully with your daughter. But I am sorry for all the trouble this has caused."
Another message from Mays, this time to a friend, reportedly read: "I should have raped because now everyone thinks I did."
Attorneys for Mays attempted to undermine the impact of the texts by raising questions about the accuracy of the time stamp on the messages, and the possibility that someone other than Mays could have sent the texts.
Ohio defense attorney and law professor Ian Friedman told Crimesider that "the text messages are problematic" for the defense.
"It looks like they're conspiring to cover it up," he says.
But Friedman, who has tried dozens of sexual assault cases, says that much of defense's evidence and theories won't be revealed until they put on their case.
If convicted, Mays and Richmond face incarceration in a juvenile facility until age 21.
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