Inside a small Steubenville, Ohio, courtroom filled with sobbing and exhausting emotion, Judge Thomas Lipps found Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond guilty Sunday of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl. Lipps sentenced both defendants to a minimum of one year in a youth correctional institute with the determination for a longer sentence coming from child-service experts.
Mays received an additional year for transmission of nude photos, to be served after his rape sentence is completed. Mays and Richmond also will have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
“It provides a great incentive to do well,” said Lipps, who could have ordered Mays and Richmond to remain behind bars until they turned 21.
Mays, 17, and Richmond, 16, both wept, at times uncontrollably, as the verdict was announced. Mays buried his head in a handkerchief as defense attorneys rubbed his back. He later hugged his parents goodbye.
Richmond was able to stand and approach the victim’s family and deliver a tearful apology before breaking down into the arms of court manager Fred Adballa Jr.
“I’m sorry,” Richmond said through gasps and cries, “for putting you guys through this. I’m sorry.”
Later, Richmond’s biological father, Nathaniel, also addressed the court and the victim’s family, placing some of the blame for his son’s actions on his own life troubles and being an absentee father.
“Everyone knows I wasn’t there for my son,” Nathaniel Richmond said. “I feel responsible for his actions. I feel highly responsible for his actions.”
The five-day trial of Mays and Richmond for the August 2012 rape of the West Virginia girl, who had come across the Ohio River for a night of partying, engulfed this old mill town in the eastern part of the state. Both boys are members of the high-profile and historically successful Big Red football team at Steubenville High School, which serves as a point of pride for the city dealing with economic hardship after the collapse of the steel industry.
Put in the spotlight was the local football team, which, critics said, allowed players to brazenly operate seemingly above the law for years. Social-media accounts, self-made videos, photos and classless text messages exposed an entire world that seemed like a Hollywood script of a high school team out of control.
It also exposed a teenage culture of weak ethics, rampant alcohol abuse and poor family structures that wound up dooming Mays and Richmond, both of whom had promising futures and no criminal past.
After the verdict, Nathaniel Richmond approached the defense table and held his son for a prolonged period. According to defense attorney Walter Madison – who was overcome with tears for what he said was the first time in his legal career – the elder Richmond told his son he loved him.
“I knew he realized he loved him, but he never told him [before],” Madison said. “So it took this.” It took this for a lot of things to come to light.
Rape, experts say, is a crime of power and control more than sex. Underlying all of that is arrogance, and in Steubenville it was taken to the extreme.
Throughout this trial, the two defendants and a parade of friends who wound up mostly testifying against the defendants, expressed little understanding of rape – let alone common decency or respect for women. Despite the conviction, the defendants likely don’t view themselves as rapists, at least not the classic sense of a man hiding in the shadows.