Former guardians voice support of rape defendant

STEUBENVILLE – The former guardians of a Steubenville High School student-athlete charged with raping a 16-year-old girl said they will continue to support the boy, ”whatever may happen” during his upcoming trial.

Gregg and Jennifer Agresta of Steubenville traveled to New York City with Malik Richmond’s attorney, Walter Madison, and appeared on the ”Today” show Tuesday to speak about the boy and some of the circumstances surrounding the case.

Richmond’s mother granted legal custody to the Agrestas when he was 10, and he lived with them for two years. While the Agrestas are no longer Richmond’s legal guardians, Judge Thomas Lipps released the 16-year-old to the couple and he remains on monitored home confinement at their residence while awaiting trial.

During the interview, Gregg Agresta expressed disappointment in Richmond’s apparent lack of judgment on the night of Aug. 11-12.

”It’s completely out of (Malik’s) character. That’s not the type of person that he is,” said Gregg Agresta, who met Richmond while coaching a youth football team.

Jennifer Agresta, a teacher in Steubenville City Schools, testified on Malik’s behalf during a preliminary hearing in November in Jefferson County Juvenile Court, where the case is being prosecuted. On Tuesday, she said she and her husband have not talked to the boy about the night of the alleged rape ”because it doesn’t matter to us – we love him regardless of what happened that evening.”

Madison maintained that any sexual contact between Richmond and the alleged victim was consensual. He also identified his client as one of two boys photographed while holding the alleged victim by her wrists and ankles on the night of the alleged assault.

Madison believes his client is being wrongly targeted over a more-than-12-minute video posted to YouTube last week in which a person was heard making derogatory comments toward the alleged victim. Dennis McNamara, the attorney for that man, Michael Nodianos, held a press conference in Steubenville on Monday to announce his client’s regret and shame over the video. Nodianos has not been charged in connection with the incident.

”It’s important for everyone to understand this very clearly: That video has nothing to do with’ Malik,” Madison said. ”He was not present. He did not produce that video. The photo, taken in conjunction with the video, draws this negative inference that’s gone way out of proportion.”

Madison also contended that his client is unable to receive a fair trial in Steubenville and has said he likely will request a change of venue.

”It has gone to the point where witnesses are reluctant to participate for fear of being vilified (and having) their personal information on the Internet,” he related.

Lipps will decide the case, as Ohio does not seat juries in juvenile cases. Regardless of where the case is tried and how the judge rules, the Agrestas said their relationship with Richmond will not change.

”He knows we love him dearly, and he knows if he’s convicted – if he’s found guilty, whatever may happen – we love him and support him,” Gregg Agresta said.

He also offered the following to those protesting local authorities’ handling of the alleged crime and clamoring for additional arrests: ”At the end of the day, you have the best judicial system in the world; embrace the process and let it work.”

Richmond and Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale are both facing rape charges in connection with the alleged incident. Mays also has been charged with the illegal use of a minor in nudity-related material. Their attorneys have denied the charges in court. Their trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 13.