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Witness gets immunity

March 15, 2013
By MARK LAW - For The Weirton Daily Times ( , Weirton Daily Times

STEUBENVILLE - The first witness to take the stand this morning in the Steubenville rape trial invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges and initially refused to testify.

Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps heard arguments from the prosecution and defense before denying Mark Cole his request to not testify. Lipps then offered blanket immunity to Cole for any criminal offenses in the state of Ohio that he might give testimony toward.

Lipps said the immunity does not cover prosecution for any perjury or false statements offered by Cole during the course of his testimony.

Article Photos

EXAMINATION — Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Aaron Ellenberger listens as prosecuting attorney Marianne Hemmeter asks questions during Thursday’s testimony in the Steubenville rape trial. -- Associated Press

Cole was expected to testify as an eyewitness to many of the incidents that allegedly happened during the night of Aug. 11-12. During a probable cause hearing held in October, Cole did offer testimony to bolster the state's position.

The state did object to Cole being offered immunity for his testimony.

Testimony Thursday of the Steubenville rape case focused on text messages sent among numerous teenagers.

The trial, being held in the juvenile courtroom in the Jefferson County Justice Center, is expected to last through Saturday and could run through Sunday.

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.

Joann Gibb, an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation computer forensic specialist, said she analyzed 17 seized cell phones. She said text messages can be proven to come from a certain phone, but said there is no proof as to who actually typed the message.

Some of the phones seized were Apple iPhones. She said Apple confirmed deleted data can't be retrieved,

Testimony showed text messages were exchanged among numerous teens during a period of several days following the alleged incident.

Mays in one text message admitted he had intercourse with the victim, something he denied in another text.

The prosecution is attempting to prove the victim was so intoxicated she couldn't have willingly had sex. The defense is trying to show the victim wasn't that intoxicated.

Anthony Craig, a friend of the victim, sent a text in which he asked if she was OK, testimony revealed. The victim responded that she didn't know who to ask or believe. Craig texted the victim, "you were like dead," referring to her intoxicated state, Gibb testified.

Gibb said the victim asked Craig who was there and "who did that to me."

Testimony showed the victim, who lives in Weirton, was drinking vodka at the Belardine home on Wilma Avenue and became intoxicated. When that party was shut down, the victim was taken by the two defendants to the Howarth house on Westwood Drive, where she threw up at least twice. She then was driven to the Cole home in Wintersville, according to testimony Wednesday and at the prior probable cause hearing in October.

The victim texted she didn't remember what happened after leaving the Howarth house, but does remember Mays telling her to do something. She stated that she had said, "no."

According to Gibb, the victim had a text message conversation with Mays and began piecing together what happened that night through other conversations with other sources.

Gibb's testimony indicated the victim texted Mays and said that others are telling her so much. "Why did you take my clothes off in front of everyone?" she texted to Mays.

The victim told Craig in a text message that she had been crying all day. "... wasn't being a slut ... they were taking advantage of me," Gibb's testimony said.

Gibb testified there was a text message conversation from Richmond's phone in which Richmond admitted to performing a sex act on the victim.

Gibb added that student Cody Saltsman sent a text message to Mays in which he tells Mays he better check with the victim because she is claiming she was drugged.

Mays sent a text message to student Evan Westlake in which he says coach Sac (Reno Saccoccia, Steubenville High School head football coach) knows about the incident, Gibb said. Westlake told May to "deny it to the grave."

The BCI expert testified that Mays texted student Mark Cole, saying, if questioned, that Cole should say the victim was drunk and was allowed to stay at Cole's house and that he took care of her.

The testimony showed that Mays eventually texted the victim's father and indicated that the incident was "all a big misunderstanding." Mays texted to the father that the alleged victim was taken to Cole's house to sleep. "... never tried anything," Gibb said the text read.

The father questioned Mays about a video, and Mays said the only video from that night was of the victim being carried out of the Howarth house by her arms and legs, Gibb said.

She added that Mays texted Craig that he had contacted Saccoccia and the coach was taking care of it. "... nothing is going to happen."

Gibb continued that a female texted Mays and asked what Saccoccia said. Mays responded saying the coach said they had to stay in for a week but would be suspended for three games if anything else happened.

"... I felt he took care of it," Mays texted, adding that Saccoccia was joking about it, "... so I'm not worried," the testimony indicated.

Sean McGhee, a Steubenville High School graduate who is now attending college, testified he was good friends with the victim. McGhee said he was at the Belardine home drinking but left and eventually went to the Howarth residence.

He said the victim was slurring her words and stumbling at the Belardine house.

McGhee said he was there when Michael Nodianos made the infamous 12-minute YouTube video, in which he is heard making crude comments about the girl.

McGhee, who also said he was good friends with Mays, testified that he texted Mays saying Mays could go to prison for life if he was caught. Mays texted back, testimony continued, saying, "... she knows what happened." McGhee texted back that she didn't because he said he knew the intoxication level of the victim.

McGhee said that he is Richmond's cousin.

When asked how he felt about having to testify on Thursday, he said "It hurts."

In other testimony, Ed Lulla, a BCI special agent, said he went to the Cole house, with then-City Police Juvenile Detective Jean-Philippe Rigaud, to gather evidence.

He said he took swabs of potential evidence in the basement and took a blanket found on the first floor Cole had said covered two juveniles on the night of the alleged incident.

During opening statements Wednesday, attorney Marianne Hemmeter of the Ohio Attorney General's Office said Mays' DNA was a match to semen found on a blanket found at the Cole residence.

Also testifying were:

Joshua Buffo, AT&T sales manager, about cell phone records.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Ellenberger about getting a search warrant for the cell phones of Westlake, Saltsman and Mays. Those teens weren't home, Ellenberger said, so he went to Harding Stadium, talked to Saccoccia and seized the phones in the locker room.

Steubenville Police Capt. Joel Walker, who seized Nodianos' cell phone. He also looked at information from BCI about cell phone evidence and saw two pictures of a naked female on Mays' phone.

Steubenville Police Dispatcher Ann DelFiandra, who said she received the three cell phones from Ellenberger.

Chris Sproul of Verizon Wireless, who testified about cell phone records.

(Staff writer Michael D. McElwain contributed to the story.)

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