Ohio judge weighs whether to keep rape trial open

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Madison also wants Lipps to order that the girl be referred to as the accuser, not the victim, because he said “victim” implies that something happened to her that’s been proven.

Lipps, a special judge brought in from Hamilton County to oversee the trial, opened with a philosophical statement of the issues at stake.

“This case is about our children, what they do when they’re not under their parents’ watchful eye as they venture out into their teenage years, how they act when they’re with their friends, and how they deal with parties and drinking,” Lipps said.

“How they react to the pressures of their friends, their relationships, their perceptions of themselves and others, their possible engagement in sexual activities and how emails and texting and social … media these days affects the way our children communicate and how their words or actions are captured or recorded.”

The athletes are accused of attacking the girl twice after an alcohol-fueled party in mid-August in Steubenville in far eastern Ohio. Three other students who witnessed the attack but weren’t charged are expected to testify at next month’s trial. The girl attends a high school across the river in West Virginia.

Two of the witnesses captured video and photo images of the attacks but deleted them shortly afterward.

The girl and her parents want the trial closed to maintain the girl’s anonymity and keep evidence that a judge might rule inadmissible from becoming public, their attorney argued in a court filing Tuesday. That could include “harmful” and “legally non-relevant” evidence, attorney Robert Fitzsimmons has said.

The AP generally doesn’t identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault.

An attorney for the second defendant, Trent Mays, argued the case should be moved to a county with a bigger courthouse where crowds of protesters trying to intimidate witnesses favorable to the accused could be better controlled.

“My big concern is that witnesses aren’t going to come in walking past hundreds of people wearing masks,” said Columbus defense attorney Adam Nemann.

Brian Deckert, a special prosecutor from the Ohio Attorney General’s office, said witnesses could be compelled to testify by subpoena and would have to testify truthfully because of perjury laws.

Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is prosecuting the case, says it will be difficult enough for the girl to testify, let alone in a public hearing open to the media.

News organizations arguing to keep the hearing open say the case is already subject to speculation that it won’t be fully investigated and prosecuted because it involves the city’s popular football team. Keeping it open eliminates that speculation, according to arguments by the AP, ABC, CNN, CBS News, The New York Times and WEWS-TV.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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