By Steve Kallas
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If you followed the trial and (correctly) assumed that there was an impartial judge — Judge Thomas Lipps was brought in from out of town after the local juvenile court judge recused himself because his granddaughter had dated one of the non-defendant Steubenville football players — it was pretty clear that both defendants would be found guilty on all counts (two against Trent Mays and one against Ma’lik Richmond). For a detailed discussion of the case just an hour before the verdict was announced, listen to Rick Wolff’s fine WFAN program, “The Sports Edge,” where his guests were law professor Doug Abrams and yours truly.
In the world we live in today, unlike in Winston Churchill’s day, the truth can get around the world pretty quickly due to social media. And when one of the defendants (Mays) sends the truth (a picture of the victim, naked, in the basement) out himself, well, on at least one count he convicted himself.
On Sunday morning, Judge Lipps held that both defendants “are hereby adjudicated delinquent beyond a reasonable doubt on all three counts as charged” — that’s the juvenile court equivalent of “guilty.” The three charges were two against Mays (one count of rape for penetrating the 16-year-old victim’s vagina with his fingers and another count of taking a nude photograph of the underage victim and sending it to others) and one against Richmond (rape for penetrating the 16-year-old victim’s vagina with his fingers).
AND DESPITE THE CONVICTIONS, HEREIN LIES THE FIRST OF MANY PROBLEMS
Judge Lipps also announced that Mays, the former star quarterback of “Big Red” football, would serve at least two years in a juvenile detention center and Richmond, the former star wide receiver of the same team, would serve at least one year. Whether they serve a longer sentence (up until their respective 21st birthdays is possible) will be determined at a later date by officials at the Ohio Department of Youth Services. (The defendants will be given some time served for the time they were in jail and under house arrest before the trial.)
In addition, Judge Lipps will determine the status of the defendants as registered sex offenders after their sentences have been served.
In his comments, Judge Lipps pointed out that both boys would have received much longer sentences had they been tried as adults.
So, why weren’t they?
Much has been made of the “football culture” that exists in small-town Steubenville, a former steel town with (now) only 18,000 residents. By many accounts, high school football is king in Steubenville, to the point where Mays said in multiple tweets that his coach had “taken care” of it and his coach “was joking about it,” so Mays wasn’t “worried.”
While many criticized the Attorney General’s office for not bringing more prosecutions (another grand jury is being convened to see if there are others to be charged), one subtle way that the “football mentality” may have actually aided these defendants is the decision that let these boys be tried in juvenile court — as opposed to being tried as adults — where they would have been looking at a sentence in double-digit years.
OTHER PROBLEMS ABOUND
Apparently, once upon a time, the Steubenville schools had programs to teach young boys to respect women. Unfortunately, those programs were eliminated due to budget cuts.
Did the “football culture” surrounding Steubenville aid in that decision? Can you imagine, in 2013, in a place where a number of citizens were quoted as saying things like “as long as the football team has a winning record, they can do what they want,” that THESE programs are the ones that were cut? Even porn star Traci Lords got into the act, saying that she (at the age of 10) and her mother had both been raped in Steubenville, where Ms. Lords had grown up.
On a separate note, the defense lawyers did what defense lawyers do — they tried to blame the victim. In opening statements, the lawyer for Richmond actually said that the victim voluntarily got drunk. While totally irrelevant to a rape charge, this attempt (or, as you hear in other cases, she was dressed “provocatively,” i.e. she was asking for it) might have had an effect on a Steubenville juror who loved the football team, but it (thankfully) had no effect on Judge Lipps.
These defenses, while disgusting and irrelevant, still exist all across the country today. And, if you have the courage, as this 16-year-old did, to get up on the witness stand and testify, well, she (and her family) didn’t “win,” but at least they got some justice. (There are no winners in this case.)
But, on this fact pattern — three eyewitnesses, all granted immunity after taking the Fifth, testified graphically and explicitly against the defendants) — there was little these defense lawyers could do other than tell the court what good boys they had been in all other aspects of their lives. (Hey, Mrs. Lincoln — other than the assassination, how did you like the play? Hey, Your Honor — other than the rape, these are good kids).
WHAT ABOUT REMORSE FROM THE DEFENDANTS?
Remorse? What remorse? It’s all in the timing. Clearly there was no remorse the night it happened nor in the days after this all happened. Clearly there was no remorse when Mays was trying to coerce the girl not to go to the police. It doesn’t seem that there was any remorse until the judge said guilty. If there was any earlier, it was probably when they saw their football careers going up in smoke.
To paraphrase Rihanna (a singer that these kids are probably aware of) in “Take a Bow,” were these kids sorry for what they did or were they sorry that they got caught?
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The Ohio Attorney General has announced that there will be a grand jury convened to see if other charges should be brought against other people. Who could that be? Well, 16 people refused to talk to officials in this matter. The adults in the house where the victim wound up (naked in the basement) with both defendants may be looked at. The football coach or others at the school may have had some obligation to report the abuse once they knew about it.
There is also the chance that the victim and her family will file a civil suit against the two defendants, although the family’s civil attorney said (after the verdict) that, if the boys had shown some remorse at a much earlier time, there was a chance that no charges would have been brought against the two defendants.
There are lots of ways to go here. At least it wasn’t swept under the rug.
And maybe at the next Steubenville School Board meeting, somebody with a brain will make a motion to re-institute a number of mandatory courses on respect, proper treatment of women, anti-bullying, etc.
They can take the cost of these programs out of the football team’s budget.
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