STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – A judge granted two teenagers immunity from prosecution Friday before they agreed to testify about the alleged sexual assault of a drunken 16-year-old girl after a party in eastern Ohio last summer.
Both Mark Cole and Evan Westlake invoked their Fifth Amendment right against testifying for fear of self-incrimination as the trial in Steubenville entered its third day. Testimony from Cole, Westlake and a third boy are a crucial part of the state’s evidence because the West Virginia girl says she doesn’t remember what happened.
Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, are charged with digitally penetrating the girl early in the morning of Aug. 12, first in a car and then in the basement of a house. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. The two maintain their innocence.
Cole testified Friday that he took a video of Mays and the girl in the car, then deleted it. Westlake testified he saw Richmond’s encounter with the girl in the basement. The third boy, who has yet to testify, said at a hearing last fall that he took a photo of the alleged basement attack that he also deleted.
The case has riveted the small city of Steubenville amid allegations that more students should have been charged and led to questions about the influence of the local football team, a source of pride in a community that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the steel industry.
If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21.
Cole, 17, testified that he filmed Mays digitally penetrate the girl in the car. A prosecutor asked him why he then deleted the video later that morning.
“It was one of those moments when you realize you did something stupid and wrong that night, so I deleted it,” Cole replied.
Cole testified he saw Mays unsuccessfully try to have the girl perform oral sex on him later in the basement of Cole’s house. Cole also testified that the alleged victim was intoxicated and slurring her words.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Walter Madison suggested that the alleged victim was behaving no differently than anyone else the night of the party.
Madison, who represents Richmond, suggested that Cole was remembering events differently because so much attention was now being paid to what happened. Cole agreed with Madison’s suggestions.
Cole testified he saw Mays and the girl asleep under a blanket on the couch later in the morning.
“Did anybody behave in a way to make you think that something was wrong?” Madison asked.
“No,” Cole said.
Westlake, the second witness granted immunity, testified that he saw Richmond digitally penetrate the girl in the basement of Cole’s house.
“Was she moving?” special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter asked.
“Not at this time,” Westlake said.
“Was she talking?” Hemmeter asked.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Westlake said.
Westlake said the girl appeared to be “pretty drunk” after a large party earlier that night. But he also testified that before the alleged attack in the basement he saw Mays and the alleged victim cuddling, hugging and kissing in the back seat of Cole’s car.
Westlake also confirmed that he filmed a 12-minute video – later passed around widely online – in which another student, Michael Nodianos, joked about the attack. Women’s rights groups have demanded that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine charge Nodianos with failure to report a crime. DeWine has so far refused to say what he’ll do.
Westlake said he deeply regrets his actions that night.
Also Friday, the superintendent of Steubenville city schools responded to evidence presented a day earlier that suggested Steubenville football coach Reno Saccoccia would let the players involved off lightly.
The coach “took care of it,” Mays said in one text introduced by prosecutors.
“Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried,” Mays said in another text.
McVey told the Associated Press Friday that the district will wait until after the trial to comment. “We’ll get everything down that comes out of trial, look at it and go from there,” he said.
McVey said it’s possible Saccoccia could testify at the trial since he was interviewed earlier by state investigators, who also spoke to other football coaches and McVey himself.
Special Judge Thomas Lipps is hearing the case without a jury.
The Associated Press normally does not identify minors charged in juvenile court, but Mays and Richmond have been widely identified in news coverage, and their names have been used in open court.