STEUBENVILLE - Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said his office did not grant immunity from prosecution in exchange for the testimony of witnesses who photographed and videotaped a 16-year-old Weirton girl on the night she allegedly was raped by two Steubenville High School student-athletes.
At a preliminary hearing in October, three other Steubenville student-athletes testified for the prosecution, saying they witnessed the defendants perform sex acts on the girl. One of the boys admitted to making a video of the alleged crime, while another confessed to taking a picture of the girl while she was unconscious and naked. Neither of those boys has been charged with crimes.
Walter Madison, defense attorney for Malik Richmond of Steubenville, one of the 16-year-old defendants, asserted Wednesday the state agreed not to charge the witnesses in exchange for their cooperation with the prosecution of the defendants.
"There was immunity given," Madison said. "They were granted immunity in exchange for their cooperation."
The attorney also alluded to a deal during his cross examination of one of the witnesses in October, saying that the boy had "cut a deal."
Adam Nemann represents the other defendant, Trent Mays of Bloomingdale, who in addition to rape has been charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for allegedly taking a picture of the naked girl. Nemann could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but he has echoed Madison's claim about an agreement between the witnesses and the prosecution.
"We've made no deals with anyone," DeWine responded Wednesday.
He declined to comment on any evidence, however, saying, "We're not going to try this case in the media. We're going to present our case in court, and the judge will make a decision."
One of the witnesses said he used his cell phone to videotape Nemann's client having sexual contact with the girl in the back seat of a car. The girl was barely conscious at the time, according to testimony. The witness shared the video with another person before deleting it the next day. Another witness testified that he took a cell phone picture of the girl while she was lying naked on a basement floor. He said he took the picture so he could explain to her what had happened that night, but he later deleted it.
An Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation computer forensic specialist testified she could not recover the deleted evidence from the witnesses' cell phones, which were among 15 phones confiscated by local law enforcement and turned over to state investigators.
The forensic specialist did discover a nude photo of the girl on one of the defendant's phones. She testified that the boy also sent that photo to at least one other person.
Ohio Assistant Attorney General Marianne Hemmeter, who is a member of a two-person team prosecuting the case, at the October hearing said that the inability to retrieve the evidence had saved the witnesses from being prosecuted. Both of the witnesses appeared in the courtroom that evening with an attorney, however. Hemmeter asked of one witness: "Do you understand how lucky you are?"
The trial is scheduled to commence on Feb. 13 in Jefferson County Juvenile Court, but both defense attorneys said they will file for a change of venue due to threats made to potential witnesses.