Witnesses take stand at rape trial
STEUBENVILLE – The defense in the Steubenville rape case will try to prove the victim wasn’t so intoxicated that she couldn’t make decisions, but the prosecution said the girl was stumbling as she tried to walk, slurring her speech and vomiting.
Trent Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville have been charged with rape in connection with an incident involving an underage girl that allegedly happened on Aug. 11-12. Mays also faces a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for allegedly having a picture of the 16-year-old victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone. Attorneys for both defendants have denied the charges.
Visiting Judge Tom Lipps heard the first day of testimony Wednesday in the juvenile courtroom at the Jefferson County Justice Center.
Six witnesses were called to the stand Wednesday, including four young people who saw the victim the night of the alleged rape. Two police officers also testified about transporting evidence to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation lab for processing.
During opening statements, attorney Marianne Hemmeter of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said Mays and Richmond took advantage of the victim when she was most vulnerable. She said the two defendants exploited that knowledge of her intoxicated state when they “treated her like a toy.”
Testimony Wednesday indicated the evening started at a party at the Belardine residence on Wilma Avenue, then moved to the Howarth residence on Westwood Drive and ended at the Cole residence on Efts Lane.
Testimony showed the victim, who lives in Weirton, was drinking vodka at the Belardine home and became intoxicated. When that party was shut down, the victim was taken by the two defendants to the Howarth house, where she threw up at least twice. She then was driven to the Cole home, according to testimony Wednesday and at the prior probable cause hearing in October.
Hemmeter said on the way, Mays unzipped the victim’s shorts and digitally penetrated her. Mark Cole II videotaped the incident with his cell phone and said the victim again was digitally penetrated in the basement of the Cole home.
She said a photograph was taken of the victim on her side and it appeared there was semen on her.
Hemmeter said Mays’ DNA was a match to semen found on a blanket at the Cole residence.
Attorney Walter Madison, representing Richmond, had no opening statement, while attorney Brian Duncan, representing Mays, said the prosecution won’t be able to prove a rape occurred.
Julia Lefever, 17, a Catholic Central High School student, said she was friends with the victim even though they attended different schools.
Lefever said she and the victim crossed the street on Aug. 11 to the Belardine home where she and the victim were drinking vodka. She said the victim got drunk extremely fast and was slurring her words and stumbling when she walked.
Lefever said she saw the victim talking to Mays during the evening.
When the Belardine party broke up around 12:30 a.m. on Aug. 12, she told the victim to stay there because the victim’s mother knew she was spending the night at Lefever’s house.
“I told her to stay and Trent said she would be fine,” Lefever said.
She noted she went back inside the Belardine home to get other girls to help but the victim and Mays were gone when Lefever came back outside. She said she tried to call the victim on her cell phone. She saw pictures of the victim later on social media.
Lefever said Cole called her the morning of Aug. 12 and told her to come get the victim. The victim “looked like a mess,” was confused and her shirt was inside out, Lefever said, adding Mays and Richmond were in the basement of the Cole residence. She told the judge the two defendants had told her nothing had happened.
Lefever said the victim, when being driven away from the Cole residence, again was asked what happened. She said the victim laid down in the backseat and started crying, saying she didn’t remember.
Lefever noted she saw a picture of the naked victim on social media and it looked like the victim had been urinated on. She said she then deleted the picture.
On cross examination by Duncan, Lefever said she and the victim split slightly more than a half a fifth of vodka. She said she had seen the victim intoxicated before but nothing like that night.
On questioning by Madison, Lefever said she reconstructed her memory of the events in the weeks and months after but said she doesn’t remember every detail. She said she stayed up until around 3 a.m. on Aug. 12 monitoring social media to find out what happened to the victim.
Elayna Andres, 17, a Steubenville High School student, said she was with her boyfriend, Jake Howarth, at his house when people left the Belardine party and started to show up there.
Andres said the victim threw up in the bathroom as soon as she came into the Howarth house. She said she sat with the victim on the couch, trying to convince her to go back to the Belardine house. Her boyfriend said the victim had to leave.
Andres said the victim stumbled and fell trying to get to the door.
Mays and Richmond then allegedly grabbed the victim by her arms and legs and tried to carry her out. A now infamous picture was taken of the moment and posted on social media.
Andres told Mays and Richmond to stop because Mays was stepping on the victim’s hair. She said Richmond then put the girl over his shoulder and carried her out.
Andres, who began crying at one point during her testimony, said Anthony Craig returned to the house after leaving with a picture of the victim on his cell phone that he showed to Michael Nodianos, who was seen in a now infamous 12-minute YouTube video making inappropriate comments.
On cross examination by Madison, Andres said it appeared the victim was able to verbally respond to others at the Howarth house.
Andres told attorney Adam Nemann, another attorney who is representing Mays, that she stopped being friends with the victim when the victim began putting inappropriate things on the Internet. It wasn’t clear from testimony what was posted.
Jake Howarth, 19, a freshman at Ashland University and a Steubenville High School graduate, said about 12 people from the Belardine party came to his house, where he said there was no alcohol consumed. He said his parents were upstairs sleeping.
Howarth said he saw the victim with Mays and Richmond. Mays told Howarth the victim had to use the bathroom to throw up. Howarth said the victim appeared drunk and was stumbling toward the bathroom. After the victim threw up, Howarth told her she had to leave.
He added he saw her on the street outside his house again throwing up. Her shirt had been removed but she had a bra on underneath, he said. He said he thought he heard Richmond say someone should urinate on the victim.
Howarth said Craig and student Evan Westlake came back to his house about an hour after leaving. He said Craig had a picture of the victim but his girlfriend wouldn’t allow him to look at the photo.
As to the response of those at his house, Howarth said, “Everyone was shocked as to what was going on. There was a mixture of jokes going around and people being scared.”
He said Nodianos and Westlake were joking about the picture.
Madison asked Howarth about the impact of the night and he said the family received threats and Internet hacks, and he was referred to as a member of the “rape crew.”
Howarth also told Madison that he didn’t have to clean up any vomit from the victim in the bathroom.
On further questioning by attorney Brian Deckert of the attorney general’s office, Howarth said the victim was swaying back and forth while sitting on a couch talking to his girlfriend.
Pat Pizzoferrato, 17, a Steubenville High School student, said he went to the Howarth house after being at the Belardine’s residence. He saw the victim with Mays and said the victim was stumbling while trying to walk. He said girls at the Howarth house told the victim to go back to the Belardine residence. The victim said she was fine, he said.
Student Cody Saltsman took the picture of Mays and Richmond trying to carry the victim out of the house, Pizzoferrato said. He said the victim wasn’t moving.
He said he saw the victim outside the Howarth house vomiting and said she had vomit on her shirt. He added he sat a bottle of water beside her. He admitted he was the one who said he would pay someone to urinate on the victim but he said the statement was intended as a joke.
Pizzoferrato said he saw another picture of the victim on Craig’s phone. He said the picture showed a female on her hands and knees with a shirt on but no pants. He said Mays was standing behind her, with his pants down, spreading her buttocks. He said Richmond was in the background. He said he thought they just had sex with her.
Pizzoferrato told Nemann he didn’t see the face of the female in the picture.
Pizzoferrato also said he was embarrassed by the urination comment and was testifying to “undo” it. He told Madison it appeared the victim was sleeping or passed out while on the couch in the Howarth home.
Steubenville Police Sgt. Mark Taylor, a detective, said he took cell phones obtained in the investigation to the BCI lab. He said there was about 15 phones.
Jonathan Sowers, another City Police detective, said he took a blanket recovered at the alleged crime scene to BCI. He also said he took mouth swabs of the two defendants, the victim, Cole, Craig and Nodianos to BCI in August for DNA testing. He said the victim’s shorts and shirt weren’t taken to BCI until Sept. 14, more than a month after the alleged incident.
Lipps said today’s testimony was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. in the juvenile courtroom and that testimony today will last into the evening.
The trial is expected to continue through Friday and possibly Saturday.
(Law can be contacted at email@example.com.)