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Steubenville football rape case witnesses reluctant to testify, defendants' lawyers say

This photo reportedly showing high school football players Trent Mays and Malik Richmond with an alleged rape victim was distributed by online activists looking to call attention to a sexual assault case in Steubenville, Ohio
CBS via localleaks.com

(CBS/AP) COLUMBUS, Ohio - Potential witnesses are reluctant to come forward for two high school football players facing rape accusations in eastern Ohio because they are being threatened and pressured not to testify, attorneys for the players said Monday.

The attorneys are considering whether to ask that the trial be moved and closed to the public amid some witnesses' concern that their names and addresses may be published through social media and on the internet.

"They are reluctant to sacrifice their college career, their reputation, or their otherwise good standing in whatever community they may be found for fear of being vilified, and certain personal information finding its way on the Internet," said Walter Madison, an attorney for 16-year-old defendant Ma'Lik Richmond.

The current juvenile court judge overseeing the case previously declined a request to close the proceedings. The Ohio Attorney General's Office, which is overseeing the prosecution, will review all motions filed in the case, spokesman Dan Tierney said Monday.

Brian Duncan, an attorney for the other 16-year-old defendant, Trent Mays, also said Monday he's considering a similar request.

"We just want to make sure our client and the other defendant have their proper day in court," Duncan said.

The two boys are set for trial next month in juvenile court in Steubenville, a city of about 18,000, on charges that they raped a 16-year-old girl in August. Their attorneys have denied the charges in court.

Public interest in the case increased with the online circulation of an unverified video last week (see above), which reportedly shows another young man joking about the details of the alleged rape. The video apparently was released by hackers who allege that more people were involved and should be held accountable.

As the investigation continues, it has spurred heated commentary online. Some support the defendants and question the character of the teenage girl, while others allege a cover-up or contend more people should be charged.

The latter group includes hacker-activists associating under the Anonymous and KnightSec labels who point to comments they say were posted around the time of the alleged attack on social media by people who are not charged.

More on Crimesider
Jan. 7, 2013 - Steubenville Rape Case: Ohio authorities create website to sort fact, fiction in high school football player sex charges
Jan. 4, 2013 - Video depicts teens laughing about alleged sexual assault victim: "She is so raped right now"