The scandal brought a barrage of accusations and insinuations, mostly online, with some townspeople supporting the defendants and others complaining that the football team has unusual sway over the city. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office took over the case after the local prosecutor stepped down because her son is a football player at 700-student Steubenville High.
Big Red football is a big deal in Steubenville. The stadium, dubbed Death Valley, sits on a hill above town, and the team is a nine-time state champion, with back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. Man O' War, a red statue of a rearing stallion, shoots flames from its mouth each time a touchdown is scored.
Three students — Anthony Craig and football players Mark Cole and Evan Westlake — testified at a hearing in October, just days after receiving the letters assuring them they would not be prosecuted. Prosecutors said at the hearing that Cole and Craig would have been charged if they hadn't deleted the images on their cellphones.
At the same proceeding, Westlake was asked by a prosecutor why he didn't stop the alleged attack.
"I was stunned at what I saw," he said. "I just wanted — I wanted to get out of there and I —I — I didn't know what to do, I mean."
The defendants' lawyers also raised the possibility that the witnesses did not know what they were seeing that night. Under questioning, the teen witnesses said that the girl was able to tell some of the boys the password to her smartphone and that they never heard her say "no" or "stop."
"So, you don't consider it a sexual assault?" attorney Adam Nemann asked Cole.
"I feel it's not my place to make that decision on whether it was or wasn't," Cole responded. "I can just tell you what I witnessed."
"And if this was a sexual assault I'm sure you would have called and told someone, right?" Nemann said.
"I would assume, yes," Cole said.
On a blog run by former Steubenville resident Alexandria Goddard, some anonymous posters have demanded others at the party be charged, including football player Cody Saltsman. Saltsman sued Goddard for defamation, and the case was settled with Goddard saying there was no evidence Saltsman was involved in the alleged attack.
Then, in January, a YouTube video was posted featuring another student, Michael Nodianos, apparently cracking jokes about the alleged rape just hours after it occurred, while others in the background chimed in. NOW is demanding prosecutors charge Nodianos with failure to report a crime, but Nodianos' lawyer said the young man had no "firsthand knowledge of the facts."
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.
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