A star witness for the prosecution took the stand Friday morning in trial of two teenage football players accused of raping a 16-year-old girl during a night of partying last summer in Steubenville, Ohio. The witness was a friend of the accused Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond and it was in the basement of his home where prosecutors say the girl was raped.
The 17-year-old witness, identified as Mark Cole, is alleged to have not only been on hand to witness the rape but also is said to have recorded the scene on his cell phone camera. Upon taking the stand he immediately invoked the Fifth Amendment, even refusing to answer his age.
“I’d rather not do it,” Cole said of testifying, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
After a short discussion in court regarding whether or not the witness had been given immunity - which would be the first time in an Ohio juvenile trial of this stature, according to defense attorney Adam Nemann – Judge Thomas Lipps granted a motion to compel. The witness was given legal immunity except for instances of perjury, falsification, contempt, and failure to provide evidence.
He eventually testified that the 16-year-old girl was so drunk that she was throwing up at the time of the sexual encounter. The witness also estimated that he himself drank between eight and ten beers in under three hours.
“Trent started fingering her, that’s when I took out my phone and started filming,” he said on the stand. ABC News reported that Cole said he could see Jane Doe’s vagina at the time but deleted the video from his phone the next morning. It was also uploaded to YouTube. “It was one of those moments you realize you did something wrong and stupid.”
Cole also said that while the girl was seated in the back seat of a car with Mays she was too inebriated to initiate contact. As Mays assaulted her, the witness said, Jane Doe was only mumbling.
In the months since the incident, Cole admitted, he’s been bothered by the way Steubenville has been portrayed in the media and especially by the notorious Twitter image of two football players carrying the girl, who was clearly incapacitated.
Legal experts have speculated that the witness’ revelations on Friday morning could spell disaster for the defense, which is hinging its strategy on consent. As many as 60 others are expected to take the stand before the trial lets out, which could possibly come early next week.
Friday’s testimony came after a dramatic Thursday in which text messages from the night in question were read aloud in open court. Among the most damning to the defense were messages from Mays to the host of the party where the alleged assault took place.
“Just say she came to your house and passed out,” he wrote to the friend. He also wrote to the victim’s father that “this is all a big misunderstanding.” Mays said to Steubenville football coach Reno Saccoccia that he “took care of it.”
Jane Doe has frequently said she remembers nothing about the night, only learning about what happened through friends and seeing pictures of herself victimized on Facebook and Twitter. In evidence introduced Thursday, she emailed Mays furious over everything she’d heard.
“Why the f*** would you let that happen,” she wrote. “Seriously, you have no f***ing respect. People are telling me so much s**t, why the f*** would you take my clothes off in front of everyone. You shouldn’t have let that happen.”
Both Mays and Richmond have maintained their innocence throughout the highly publicized ordeal. If convicted they could serve prison time until they turn 21. The defense team’s claims that the girl have consented, though, were further damaged when prosecutors presented texts from the girl to her friends Thursday.
Experts at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation sorted through 240,000 text messages and 95,000 pictures regarding the events of the night, according to WTOV9 in Ohio.
“Swear to god I don’t remember doing anything with them,” the girl wrote. “Wait I think I was drugged. I have no memory from after I left [the party]…I wasn’t being a slut. They were taking advantage of me.”
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