Court may pay for defensive investigator

STEUBENVILLE – Jefferson County Juvenile Court may have to foot the bill for the hiring of an investigator to help in the defense preparation of one of two Steubenville High School student-athletes who have been charged with rape.

Visiting Judge Tom Lipps issued rulings Wednesday on several motions filed by the defense attorneys, one of which is granting up to $2,500 plus travel expenses for an investigator.

Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville have been charged with rape in connection with an incident that allegedly happened Aug. 11-12. Mays also faces a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for allegedly having a picture of the victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone. Attorneys for both defendants have denied the charges.

Attorney Walter Madison, who represents Richmond, had asked Lipps during a hearing held Friday at the Jefferson County Justice Center to allow the court to pay for an investigator even though he has been retained in the case.

“Despite the fact the defendant or someone on his behalf has retained private counsel, it appears the defendant is indigent under the law as only the defendant’s income is measured in the determination of indigency. The defendant is presently a high school student without apparent personal income,” Lipps said in his ruling.

Madison argued the attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, has had the help of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in interviewing witnesses. Madison said during Friday’s hearing that BCI interviewed 86 witnesses in a week.

Lipps said Madison had shown reasonable probability the requested investigator would aid in the defense, and that denial would result in an unfair trial.

The investigator will be engaged by Madison through the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, Lipps said.

Jefferson County Juvenile Court will have to pay the expense, according to a court official.

Lipps also in his rulings issued Wednesday said the case will remain open, will stay in Jefferson County and that the trial has been continued until March 13. The original date for the start of the trial was Feb. 13.

Lipps said in his ruling that the names of the defendants and some details of the case have already been made public.

“Responsible media presence will mean more accurate reporting, as an opportunity to view testimony under oath and observe the scrutiny of cross-examination is superior to the suppositions of persons holding opinions in this matter,” Lipps said.

“Though possibly embarrassing to the defendants, alleged victim, family, friends and the community, the allegations and the alleged facts of this matter are a matter of community interest, and it is likely that discussion and debate will occur in any event,” Lipps said. “A transparent and open hearing and determination of the issues enhances the public confidence in the juvenile justice system. In this case the public interest in attending and reporting details of the hearings outweighs the defendant’s and the alleged victim’s interests in having the proceedings closed to the public.”

Lipps, ruling on the motion that asked for the trial to be moved from Jefferson County, said there is a concern that extensive pretrial publicity, intense community debate, Internet posts by certain groups promising retaliation toward potential witnesses, hacking invasions of computers and websites, physical harm threats to those involved in the case, recent demonstrations in the city, potential disruption of the trial and pressure groups that might hope to affect certain trial results, may combine to intimidate witnesses and hinder a fair trial if this case is held in Jefferson County.

Lipps said a change of venue request is usually is made when there is a question of sitting an impartial jury.

“However, in the instant case, the trial is not before a jury, is a juvenile delinquency hearing and the presiding judge is from a distant county with no local ties who has avoided media reports concerning the case,” Lipps said.

The judge said federal, state and local law enforcement officials are aware of reported threats and intimidation and are actively investigating. He said groups or persons making the threats can be prosecuted, adding such threats could continue wherever the trial is held.

“The court is confident in the Jefferson County sheriff’s ability to provide security for the court, defendants, witnesses and other persons connected with this matter,” Lipps said. “The court believes in the people of Jefferson County to display appropriate demeanor and respect for a fair and impartial trial. Jefferson County Juvenile Court has certain measures in place to protect participants.”

Lipps said subpoenas can be issued for witnesses who will be expected to testify truthfully under oath. He said the court has certain contempt powers regulating the conduct of witnesses and anyone interfering with the court.

Madison also asked Lipps on Friday to have the alleged 16-year-old female victim referred to as the accuser.

Marriane Hemmeter, Ohio Attorney General special prosecutor, said during Friday’s hearing that the AG’s office is the accuser.

Lipps said the girl will be referred to as the “alleged victim.”