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Contentious reaction in Steubenville after rape guilty verdict

March 17, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • Protesters, who did not want to be identified, hold signs outside of the Jefferson County Justice Center and Jail in Steubenville, Ohio, on Wednesday.
Protesters, who did not want to be identified, hold signs outside of the… (Lisa DeJong / The Plain Dealer )

Once the rape occurred, the crime never left the Web -- and that remains true after a high-profile prosecution returned guilty verdicts for a pair of Ohio high-school football players on Sunday. Their trial is over, yet their crime remains under debate within multiple courts of public opinion.

Steubenville, Ohio, found itself in the national spotlight after pictures and messages on social media implicated Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, in the rape of a drunk 16-year-old girl.

They were dragged into the harsh glare of a televised juvenile-court trial that continued to nag on consciences both at home and afar. A judge sentenced Richmond to at least a year in juvenile detention, and Mays to at least two years. 

Yahoo! sports columnist Dan Wetzel, who covered the trial, decried a culture of arrogance in Stuebenville, a Rust Belt town that found its image besieged by national reporters and women's' rights advocates as more and more details of the rape tumbled into the public sphere. (Last year, when a New York Times reporter asked the boys' coach, Reno Saccoccia, why he didn't discipline the players involved with the rape, the coach came nose-to-nose with a reporter and said: "You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.”)

"A culture of arrogance created a group mindset of debauchery and disrespect, of misplaced manhood and lost morality," Wetzel wrote of Stuebenville's proud football culture after the verdict. "Drunk on their own small-town greatness, they operated unaware of common decency until they went too far, wrote too much, bragged too many times and, finally, on a cold Sunday morning, were hauled out of a small third-floor courtroom as a couple of common criminals."

Other commentators around the country expressed relief at the verdict, but continued outrage at the crime, and at a culture of arrogance many think extends beyond Steubenville.

More charges may, in fact, be coming. Ohio Atty. Gen. Mike DeWine announced after Sunday's verdict that officials would continue to examine the case to see if others involved could be charged. DeWine added that 16 juveniles possibly involved with the case did not cooperate with the investigation, which, he said, may be taken to a grand jury.

The case did not bring universal cries of justice at home in Steubenville. Many took to the social media that publicized the case to express everything from sadness, sympathy and anger for the two teen defendants.

The following series of tweets from Steubenville-area users gives a sample of the reaction after the guilty verdict was announced. Many tweets expressing strong opinions about the case could not be reproduced here due to profanity stemming from disagreements, and others because they named the victim, who has remained unidentified. Some defended the defendants; others defended their hometown.

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