Teen rape suspects released

STEUBENVILLE – Two 16-year-old Steubenville High School students charged with rape were released from the Jefferson County Detention Center on Thursday after a judge ruled their case will remain in the county’s juvenile court system.

Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps released the defendants following their more than two months in custody. In addition to rape, one of the defendants is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

The pair will remain on monitored home confinement while awaiting a pre-trial hearing Dec. 14. Lipps also ordered they continue taking classes in the Juvenile Court’s alternative school rather than return to Steubenville High School. The defendants are barred from having any contact with the alleged victim or her family, as well as any potential witnesses in the case.

AIn the time between an Oct. 13 probable cause hearing and Thursday, the defendants underwent evaluation by Jefferson County Juvenile Court personnel, as well as psychiatric evaluation, to determine if they are amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile system.

Lipps said he was forced to consider three factors in deciding if the defendants should be tried as juveniles or adults: their age, the seriousness of their alleged offenses and any attempts at prior rehabilitation.

“When I weigh all these things and look at these two defendants here, I feel both of these juveniles should be tried as juveniles in the juvenile system,” he said.

His ruling brought a tempered rejoice from members of the courtroom audience. The judge heard testimony from the alleged victim’s mother prior to his ruling, as well as parents, teachers and coaches who spoke on behalf of the defendants.

The alleged victim’s mother, who was the prosecution’s sole witness Thursday, said her daughter has been humiliated by what transpired on and since Aug. 11, the night of the alleged crimes. The girl has been ostracized by friends and has become reclusive, attempting to avoid school and rarely leaving her room.

“I hear her crying at night,” the woman said of her daughter. “She tries to stay very brave in front of her father and I, but she’ll go into her room and I’ll hear her cry.”

The girl and her family also have been the target of threats, the girl’s mother continued, which has required the constant presence of a police cruiser in their neighborhood. When Lipps asked the woman if she thought the defendants should be tried as juveniles or adults, however, she only offered to “leave it in God’s hands.”

Steubenville High School head football coach Reno Saccoccia testified that one of the defendants developed great character not through sports, but through overcoming struggles at home. The boy exhibited humility and routinely responded well to adversity, he added. Despite the charge against him, Saccoccia said he remains proud of the defendant.

One of the boy’s mother spoke of her son’s maturity and precociousness. While her other children were playing, he could be found reading or watching the news, she said. Her family life, however, was unsettled, which caused her son to act reserved and suffer from trust issues. Despite familial struggles, she said she instilled her son with values, including hard work.

A Steubenville City Schools teacher said the defendant was an at-risk child when his mother granted her temporary custody of the boy in 2004. In the following years, she knew him to be a caring, studious child, she recalled.

“He has so many promising characteristics,” she said. “He’s very kind, he’s compassionate, he’s loving. He wants something more for himself, but he takes a lot of pride in where he comes from.”

The other defendant’s mother testified that her son’s arrest and ongoing incarceration caused her family deep heartbreak.

“We’re devastated,” she said. “I can’t sleep. He got taken away in the middle of the night from us. Every single night I wake up in the middle of the night and he’s not there.”

Witnesses for both defendants also described the boys as exemplary students, consistently receiving high academic marks.

The prosecution offered that it was well-known prior to Thursday’s hearing that the defendants were outstanding student-athletes. But that is more reason why they should have known the acts they allegedly committed against the victim in August were egregious.

“They knew better than to treat this girl the way they did,” said Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Brumby. “Instead of helping her, they sexually assaulted her.”

Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin again was in the courtroom, although her office was recused from the case shortly after filing the charges against the teens.