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Thoughts about last week

March 24, 2013
By ROSS GALLABRESE - Executive editor (rgallabrese@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

The string of events that has taken center stage in our area for the last seven months certainly has provoked much discussion. Here are few thoughts:

The Ohio Supreme Court made a wise decision when it named Thomas Lipps as the visiting judge who would hear what has become known as the Steubenville rape case. In a community as small and tight-knit as ours, it's inevitable that paths cross, which means Jefferson County Juvenile Judge Samuel Kerr made the proper decision to recuse himself from the case. Remember, while actual conflicts of interest may be rare, the appearance of conflicts of interest are not. It's best to eliminate any inkling of a conflict early on.

All who had worked with Lipps, a retired judge from the Cincinnati area, in the past described the jurist as an excellent judge and a better man. His work in Steubenville certainly affirmed that.

His resume showed that he had presided over more than 120,000 cases involving juvenile delinquency, child abuse and neglect, paternity and child support and other types of cases during his 37-year career in Hamilton County Juvenile Court.

Lipps did an outstanding job of keeping the trial of Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond running smoothly. His expression never changed as he listened to the testimony and arguments, and even as he pronounced the sentences after he found both to be delinquent in the rape of the 16-year-old Weirton girl.

I'm sure Lipps has seen and heard many terrible things during his career on the bench, and I would be willing to bet that this case ranks among the worst.

The judge's demeanor helped to reassure those who were watching, in Steubenville, throughout the Tri-State Area and across the world, that the defendants would receive a fair trial and that the victim would receive justice.

As Kerr himself said about Lipps a few days before the trial began, "He really is a perfect choice to handle this matter."

It's safe to say that the five days at the Jefferson County Justice Center taught us all some things we did not know about social media.

The case represented the first in our area that members of the news media were able to use the many tools for instant communication that we all have access to these days.

While the Internet has offered a platform for updating news stories as they change, journalists covering the local case were able to provide almost instant updates from the justice center on Twitter and Facebook as well as through the mobile apps that are widely available. Thanks to the technology, reporters no longer have to face the constraints that can arise from having to follow set printing or broadcast schedules and are able to make information available almost instantaneously to those who are consumers of news no matter where they are. By using computers, smartphones and other portable devices, headlines and snippets are constantly available.

In our case, that instant dissemination of news served as the perfect complement to our print editions - those who wanted constant updates were able to obtain them through the apps of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times that run on iOS devices. Those who wanted in-depth coverage of the daily testimony were able to find it in our print editions, through our websites or by turning to those very same apps.

The traffic to our electronic platforms and the increased sales of our print editions during the trial helped to serve as evidence to something we've been sure of for some time now - and that's there will always be a demand for information that is gathered and edited by professionals and distributed in a timely manner.

That said, we also saw the dark side of social media, a side that all members of our society must figure out a way to handle. Social media was used in the local case to intimidate witnesses and the victim and to make groundless accusations against others. However, as Jocelyn Noveck of The Associated Press wrote last week, material distributed by social media also helped to make the convictions possible.

It was something not lost on the mother of the victim, who said about Mays and Richmond after the sentences were handed down last Sunday morning, "Your decisions that night affected countless lives, including those most dear to you. You were your own accuser through this social media that you chose to publish your criminal conduct on."

The lesson apparently has not been learned by everyone, as witnessed by Monday's arrests of the two local teens on charges that they used social media to threaten the victim.

Attorney General Mike DeWine had the best comment: "What's sad particularly to me is that the victim has had to go through the rape, the aftermath of the rape, the trial and she continues to be victimized in the social media."

Just in case you need any more evidence that some people just don't get it, consider the work of Jimmy Momenee, a disc jockey at WXUT-FM, the student-run radio station at the University of Toledo. Momenee, who graduated from the school last May, tweeted the following last Sunday, just after the verdict was issued, according to The (Toledo) Blade: "Disgusting outcome on #Steubenville trial. Remember kids, if you're drunk/slutty at a party and embarrassed later, just say you got raped."

His radio show has been suspended.

As many people, from Lipps to DeWine, have reminded us during this ordeal, this problem is not unique to Steubenville.

Consider: Around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, The Associated Press sent out a dispatch from Torrington, Conn. It read that two members of the Torrington High School football team, both 18, have been charged with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, who has been taunted on social media sites in recent weeks by dozens of classmates upset by the allegations.

Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio are the players who have been charged with felony second-degree sexual assault and crimes, according to the Register Citizen newspaper.

Details of the allegations have been sealed, the newspaper reported, adding that social media posts by classmates taunting the accuser have included vulgar language and have blamed her for ruining the lives of the players.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, can be contacted at rgallabrese@heraldstaronline.com)

 
 

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