Rape case turns to lessons to be learned for all

STEUBENVILLE – Everyone involved in the rape case against two Steubenville High School student-athletes said it should be used as a life lesson for parents and teenagers.

Visiting Juvenile Judge Thomas Lipps found Trent Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville guilty Sunday of rape in connection with an incident involving an underage girl Aug. 11-12. Mays also was found delinquent of a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for having a picture of the 16-year-old victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone.

The non-jury trial at the Jefferson County Justice Center lasted four days, with testimony ending Saturday evening.

Lipps sentenced Richmond and Mays to spend at least one year in an Ohio Department of Youth Services facility or until they are 21 years old. He ordered Mays to spend at least one additional year in the youth center for illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

Lipps said he believed the actions of Mays were more “egregious” and ordered that his sentences be consecutive, meaning Mays will serve a minimum of two years.

Mays and Richmond also face sex offender reporting requirements, but Lipps said he won’t make a determination on that until both are about to be released from state facilities. He ordered the state Department of Youth Services to provide sex-offender rehabilitation treatment.

The teens face a maximum reporting requirement of notifying the sheriff where they live every 90 days for life. There are less serious reporting requirements, such as twice a year for 20 years or once a year for 10 years.

Lipps told the parents of the defendants to contact the state Department of Youth Services to help determine which facility the teens will be sent to.

He said the Paint Creek Light House Youth Center, a privately run Department of Youth Services facility in Bainbridge, has “excellent” programs for juvenile sex offenders. He said a judge must give permission for a teen to be sent there and he is willing to give such permission.

Lipps told the juveniles there is plenty of opportunity for them to show good character but also to make mistakes.

“There is a great incentive there for them to do good,” he said.

Lipps said he hopes the defendants, as well as the victim, take this experience and build upon it as they grow into adulthood. He also said he hopes all parents have discussions with their children about the use of social media and drinking alcohol, adding that drinking is an “age-old problem” with teens.

Testimony showed the victim, who lives in Weirton, was drinking vodka at the Belardine home on Wilma Avenue in Steubenville and became intoxicated. When that party was shut down, she was taken by the two defendants to the Howarth house on Westwood Drive in Steubenville, where she threw up at least twice. She then was driven to the Cole home outside Wintersville, according to testimony.

Mark Cole and Evan Westlake, after Lipps had granted them immunity from prosecution in connection with the case, testified that they had seen the defendants digitally penetrate the victim. Cole said he took a video of Mays inserting a finger inside the victim during the car ride to Cole’s house. Westlake testified he saw Richmond inserting two fingers inside the victim in the basement of the Cole residence.

The prosecution argued the victim was highly intoxicated and unable to give consent.

Social media played a large role in the case, with text messages, videos and pictures making up a large amount the evidence presented.

The mother of the victim released an audio statement after the sentencing Sunday.

“It did not matter what school you went to, what city you lived in, what sport you played, human compassion is not taught by a teacher, coach or a parent. It is a God-given gift instilled in all of us. You displayed not only a lack of this compassion, but a lack of any moral code. 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. This does not define who my daughter is. She will persevere, grow and move on. I have pity for you both, and hope you fear the Lord. Repent for your actions and pray hard for his forgiveness,” she said.

Mays apologized to the victim, her family and the community after Lipps issued his ruling. He said naked pictures of the victim should not have been distributed.

Richmond also apologized, saying he had no intention of doing anything like this. He walked across the courtroom to face the victim’s family and said, “I want you to know I’m truly sorry.”

Fred Abdalla Jr., juvenile court chief probation officer, came over to help hold Richmond while he was crying in front of the victim’s family.

Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said there was no remorse from the defendants to what happened to the victim. She said once information on the rape got out, there was a conscientious decision to blame her, the victim, for what happened.

“The lack of remorse was most appalling. The disregard for another human being can’t be ignored,” Hemmeter said.

Attorney Adam Nemann, who represented Mays, said he has been with Mays since September and seen him in the family home. He said the public doesn’t see that Mays “is a very caring, family oriented, loving man.” He said the Mays family, which was in the courtroom throughout the trial “is ashamed as well.”

Attorney Walter Madison, who represented Richmond, said Richmond’s father, Nate, made a lot of mistakes in his life. He said Nate Richmond apologized for not being there for his son.

Gregg and Jennifer Agresta of Steubenvile were appointed guardians when Ma’Lik Richmond was 8. Daphne Birden, Richmond’s mother, said at the bind-over hearing in November that she allowed the Agrestas to assume guardianship of her son because of her medical conditions.

Nate Richmond was sentenced to five years in prison in December 2002 after pleading guilty to felonious assault, with a firearm specification, and having a weapon as a convicted felon in connection with a drive-by shooting in September 2002.

The older Richmond told Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge John J. Mascio at his sentencing that he moved to Steubenville from Chicago because he thought it was a better place to raise his children.

Madison said the Agrestas feel, in some respects, that they let Ma’Lik down. Madison said Nate Richmond, who came up to his crying son when the verdict was read, sat down, hugged Ma’Lik and told his son he loved him.

Madison said when Lipps said Ma’Lik was guilty, Ma’Lik collapsed onto Madison’s shoulder, saying, “My life is over and no one wants me.”

When Ma’Lik went to the Agrestas and sat down and had a meal, “He loved the way that made him feel,” Madison said.

Madison said Ma’Lik was acting out in school and somebody saw something in him and gave him an opportunity. He said Ma’Lik made the school honor roll in the first year he lived with the Agrestas.

“He’ll have to deal with this the rest of his life. He’ll have to explain to his grandkids when he is 70 or 80 years old (the sexual offender reporting) for something he did when he was 16 years old,” Madison said.

Madison said Ma’Lik’s sentence will last up to five years in a juvenile facility, but he will have to live “with that scar the rest of his life.”

Brian Mays, Trent’s father, said he was “very sorry for putting the (victim’s family) through this.” I’m sorry to put everybody through this … the community, the school and everybody else.”

Nate Richmond said he has been through a lot of struggles throughout his life. He said he is an ex-alcoholic who has not had a drink in 12 years.

“When I drank alcohol, it caused a lot of problems and destroyed my life. Alcohol played a big part of the kids’ decision.

“I would like to say to the parents, I’m sorry what all you had to go through. I hope somewhere in your hearts you can forgive Trent and Ma’Lik for the pain caused to your daughter and putting you through this,” Nate Richmond said.

“I want everyone to know, even though I was not there for my son, I feel responsible for his actions,” he said.

Nate Richmond said he hopes the case helps children make positive choices and teaches them how alcohol can lead to bad decisions that can affect the rest of their lives.

Gregg Agresta said the case can offer a lesson for everyone, especially parents.

“Don’t be their best friend. Be a parent,” he said.

Attorney Brian Duncan, who represented Mays, said he hopes the community can come together and support the victim’s family and the families of the two young defendants.

“This case needs to be a great teaching tool for our youth, and parents need to use it that way,” Duncan said.

Madison agreed, saying parents have to be involved in the lives of their children.

“You can’t just be a friend. You have to give them what they don’t want to hear, including discipline, guidance, spirituality and compassion. You have to embrace the moment, no matter how bad. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to Ma’Lik Richmond. He may be out in a year, but he has the rest of his life to show everyone truly who he is,” Madison said.

Bob Fitzsimmons, an attorney representing the victim’s family, said the family forgives the two young defendants.

“They are praying for those two. We now need to regroup and, hopefully, we all can learn valuable lessons. It is not a time to point fingers, but a time to put our hands together and pray a little bit,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said he was proud of how strong the victim was when she took the witness stand Saturday.

“It is not an easy thing to talk about,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said the community needs to learn about social media and children.

“It is not like when I was growing up. There needs to be rules as to how to use it. Children and adults waste the day and no longer have conversations,” the Wheeling-based attorney added.

He said the victim has not made a decision about forgiving the defendants.

He said the remorse of the defendants came too late in the opinion of the victim’s family.

Fitzsimmons said the victim is going to live her life as a high school student, adding she made the school honor roll through all of this.

“She wants to live her life without all this around her,” he said.

Fitzsimmons would not directly comment on a civil lawsuit regarding the case, only saying he represents the family.

The Rev. Larry Dorsch, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in Weirton, the parish of the victim’s family, said he was in the juvenile courtroom all week supporting the family.

“They are a very strong family, a family that takes its Christian faith very seriously,” he said.

“What we learned as a community is we have difficult issues we need to work on with kids. We need to deal with sexual issues. We need to teach young men how to respect women, in dealing with their own sexuality and dealing with women with respect,” Dorsch said.

He said the community also needs to deal with children and alcohol.

“We need to talk to parents about following their children. They shouldn’t be out at 2 a.m. driving drunk. I will talk with other moral leaders in the community on how to deal with that,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said the victim’s mother had planned to stay outside the courtroom while Lipps announced the verdict and sentencing, but came inside when she saw Ma’Lik break down crying. When Ma’Lik apologized in front of her, Fitzsimmons said the mother mouthed the words that she, too, is able to forgive Ma’Lik.

Fitzsimmons said, “Parents need to be parents, not just best buddies. Parents need to watch them like a hawk because they will get away with anything they can. We need to revisit parenting skills.”

Katie Hanna, statewide director for the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said the case should tell the entire world they need to have conversations with children.

“We need to show them rape is not acceptable,” she said.

Hanna said schools need to incorporate rape prevention in education curriculum.

“Rape happens every day. Often it is the silent crime,” she said.

Hanna said the victim in the case initially didn’t want to come forward.

“Her voice has been the voice of others to come forward. Her courage and bravery has spoken volumes to this community,” Hanna said.

Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville said it’s important that members of the community now come together.

“Following the judge’s decision, we should keep all those involved in the rape case as well as those participating in the ongoing investigation in thought and prayer. Together, as a community, may we continue to place ourselves in God’s love and mercy,” Monforton said in a written statement.

(Law can be contacted at mlaw@heraldstaronline.com.)