STEUBENVILLE - A video some say is tied to the upcoming rape trial of two city high school student-athletes went viral Wednesday, just as a planned rally about the trial scheduled for noon Saturday picks up speed.
The 12-and-one-half-minute video of a former Steubenville City High School student-athlete appeared on YouTube Wednesday morning and quickly spread across the Internet, popping up on Facebook.com, Twitter.com and other social media sites.
Some are saying the video is tied to the upcoming trial of Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale and Malik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville, who are charged with the alleged crime. The trial of the Steubenville High School student-athletes is set for Feb. 13 before visiting Judge Tom Lipps. The alleged rape of the underage girl allegedly occurred Aug. 11-12.
Last week, the Internet hacktivist group Anonymous took over a local, privately owned sports site, www.rollredroll.com, where the group posted a video and links to information surrounding individuals it asserted were allegedly involved in the incident. The group also posted the names and other personal information taken from social networking sites they assert is proof others were allegedly involved.
Last Saturday, a rally in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse - dubbed OpRollRedRoll - drew between 300 and 400 people, protesting what they say should have been additional arrests made in connection with the alleged crime. Another rally is planned for noon this Saturday, again in front of the courthouse. As of Wednesday, more than 1,200 people had committed to attend on a Facebook invite page. Attempts to reach organizers concerning this Saturday's planned rally have been unsuccessful.
The video released Wednesday shows the former student-athlete joking in a crude manner about what some on social media were assuming and asserting is the alleged rape. The word "rape" is used several times in the video. There are no indications where or when the video was filmed, and it's unclear who posted it on YouTube. The video prompted an outcry when posted on social media sites, and several webzines and other sites, including the Huffington Post, had picked up on the story by Wednesday evening. Cable news network CNN also broadcast a short segment about the alleged incident this morning.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer also listed the rape trial as one of its top 10 stories of the year in Ohio. A private website dedicated to the case, www.occupysteubenville.com, includes links with messages from Anoymous, media reports on the case, blogs, interviews with local authorities and even apparel for sale. Also, a petition on the White House's website demanding additional individuals be arrested in the case had gathered more than 3,000 signatures as of this morning.
As reported in the Herald-Star Oct. 13, a probable cause hearing Oct. 12 included testimony in the case by several eyewitnesses to the alleged rape, and led to the judge finding there was probable cause for a trial to proceed.
During the hearing, three fellow Steubenville High School students testified about the incident. Lipps advised the teens of their rights not to incriminate themselves through testimony. Two of the teens had attorneys present when they were testifying.
Joann Gibbs, a forensic analyst of digital media with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, said she looked at 15 cell phones and two iPads that were submitted by City Police following search warrants were executed. She said Apple iPhones with later generation operating systems make it impossible to recover files that are deleted. Gibbs testified she did recover two naked pictures of the victim that were part of text messages sent on Mays' cell phone.
Those involved in the incident were at three separate houses during the night of Aug. 11, testimony indicated. There was testimony the victim was highly intoxicated and throwing up at various locations.
During the hearing, Mark Cole II, 17, said the victim was leaving one house and was so intoxicated she could barely walk.
Cole said he shot a video of sexual conduct in his car between Mays and the victim as they were driving to Cole's house. Cole said he later deleted the video from his phone.
Cole said it "wasn't his place to determine if there was a sexual assault. He said he didn't believe it was necessary to call his mother, who wasn't at home, another adult or the police.
Cole did say the victim wasn't moving at his house when the alleged sexual assault took place.
Anthony Craig, 18, said he could see the victim getting more drunk throughout the night. He said he went to Cole's house where Cole showed him a video of what happened in Cole's car.
Craig testified Mays sent him a naked picture of the victim the next day.
City Police juvenile detective Jean-Philippe Rigaud said the victim couldn't say if she was raped because she couldn't remember what happened. The detective said there was no photo or video retrieved that showed Mays conducting a sexual act.
Evan Westlake, 17, said he was at Cole's house and was getting ready to leave when he saw the victim naked on her side. He said the victim wasn't moving.
When asked why he didn't help, Westlake said, "I was stunned with what I saw. I wanted to get out of there. I didn't know what to do."
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said Wednesday facts of the case had been reported earlier, and law enforcement officials had previously asked witnesses to come forward to no avail.
"(Steubenville Police Chief Bill) McCafferty begged people to come forward - no one wanted to get involved," said Abdalla. "I've said that if you have evidence, show us the pictures. No one had the courage to step up."
Abdalla also denied there was a cover-up of any kind.
"If there was a cover-up, why were two people arrested?" said the sheriff. "This investigation isn't over. I saw the video. It's disgusting."
The sheriff said the case was originally presented to Steubenville Police Department, and "I can't go in and say it's my case - give it to me."
Abdalla also criticized those who he said did not care about justice but were engaging in "character assassination."
"I respected (protesters) coming to the city (Saturday), but now (some have) crossed a line," said Abdalla, adding they were leveling personal attacks against law enforcement officials. "When they started this character assassination, I wondered if they really cared about this case. I wonder now if they ever really did. I think they just want the notoriety.
"It's not about standing up for justice any more," Abdalla continued. "They could care less about the victim. To paint a whole community as corrupt because two people made a terrible mistake is just wrong. They want us to arrest the whole (Steubenville High School) football team. Remember, these two boys are innocent until proven guilty. I think people forget that. To talk about corruption in the city and to put false information on a website - that's not right, either."
Abdalla also said the case was hampered by the victim not coming forward to report the alleged crime until three days after the alleged incident occurred.
McCafferty said he hasn't been notified of any rally this weekend.
"I've not been officially notified of any rally," said the chief. "Our department is a professional department. We don't comment on anything where a case is pending. We have to protect the integrity of the case."
(Miller can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)