After months of anonymous lobbying on her behalf from the hackers at Anonymous and sexual-assault groups around the country, the 16-year-old alleged victim in the Steubenville rape scandal finally had Ohio juvenile prosecutors tell her side of the story on Wednesday afternoon, as the prosecution delivered an emotional and graphic opening statement. The defense stayed quiet with its date-rape-doesn't-exist strategy, even as many of those following the case so closely finally saw the two accused high-school football players for the first time.
"There will be challenges for everybody in this case," Special Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter told Judge Tom Lipps during a packed session at Jefferson County juvenile court, with a silent protest from Occupy Steubenville carrying on outside. "Holding these two responsible for what they did — that will be the easiest you will make." Hemmeter's opening salvo was unflinching — she named the victim as a courtroom video feed sent it around the Internet, she repeated the word "degradation," and she spared no details about how suspects Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond "repeatedly violated" the victim (who will likely not be named by the media, as is custom with alleged victims of sexual assault).
As we reported in our in-depth trial preview earlier on Wednesday, Hemmeter and her fellow prosecutor have been silent in the press and about the investigation, even as hackers tried to piece together clues. But within the first 30 minutes of the trial picking up in earnest after an hour-long recess, Hemmeter introduced evidence beyond what a rapt nation has seen on Instagram (above) and YouTube: she submitted as evidence and projected onto the courtroom wall two naked pictures of the victim, one allegedly taken and sent from the phone of Mays, the suspect facing multiple charges. "The person ushering her [to the bathroom] was Trent Mays," said Hemmeter, insisting that the Steubenville High quarterback was present when the alleged victim realized she was inebriated beyond control. There is also a blanket with the alleged victim's DNA.
Hemmeter also reiterated the controversial pre-trial testimony from three Steubenville High athletes who said that the alleged victim was not conscious while being attacked. Hemmeter said, rather graphically:
You heard the testimony that in the car, Trent Mays unzipped her shorts and slipped his finger into her vagina ... They [witnesses] will tell you that Trent Mays tried to put his penis in her mouth and you'll hear that Ma'lik Richmond was down by her feet and inserted two fingers into her vagina while she lay motionless.
So it's now finally clear that the prosecution will rely on the pre-trial testimony and on social-media evidence we haven't yet scene, all in an effort to discount the increasingly strong — if increasingly vile — strategy from the defense for Mays and Richmond. The defense was granted a last-minute appeal on Tuesday night to subpoena three of the alleged victim's friends who apparently made incriminating statements to police that she had made plans to meet up with Mays and that she "was completely fine" the morning after. That would seem to give the defense its own trio of star witnesses from West Virginia, testifying against their "best friend," to counter the prosecution's three star athletes, who appear to be doing the same. The defense withdrew a motion to dismiss the trial early on in the proceedings Wednesday.
The defense has been standing by its argument that the alleged victim consented to the attack — by way of that plan, and sending a text message to Mays afterward — but it's been making its case more in in the press than in the courtroom, that the victim "was making decisions, cognitive choices ... She didn't affirmatively say no" and that "the person who is the accuser here is silent just as she was that night, and that's because there was consent." After Hemmeter's opening statement for the prosecution, Walter Madison, the attorney for Richmond (pictured above) who has scoffed at the photographic evidence available in public so far — "We don't care what it looks like," he told ABC News of a notorious Instagram photo of the girl dangling between the two suspects — did not mention the consent defense, and in fact declined to give an opening statement for his client. One of Mays's two attorneys, Brian Duncan, did have a brief opening statement prepared: "Our position has remain unchanged. Trent Mays did not rape the young lady in question," Duncan said.
The trial is continuing with motions and real witnesses this afternoon, and while several of those (often underage) witnesses have requested not to be shown on the cameras inside the courtroom (which were allowed by Lipps, the visiting judge), you can follow along with the live feed here: