Motions being heard in teen rape case

STEUBENVILLE – Local and national news organizations are expected to argue today that further juvenile court proceedings involving two Steubenville High School student-athletes charged with rape should remain open.

But attorneys on both sides of the case are calling for the coming trial to be closed to the public and for media to be barred.

Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons, who represents the victim, filed a motion Tuesday in Jefferson County Juvenile Court asking that he and the victim’s parents be allowed to be present at the trial of the two juveniles and that the public and media to be excluded from the proceedings. The boys have been charged with rape in connection with an Aug. 11-12 incident. One 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 from his cell phone.

Attorneys for both defendants have denied the charges in court.

Fitzsimmons will join attorney Walter Madison, who represents one of the defendants, in a hearing at 1 p.m. in the Jefferson County Justice Center concerning motions filed in the case, including the closure of proceedings. Madison also has requested that the trial be held elsewhere and that the trial, which is scheduled to start Feb. 13, be continued.

Attorney Brian Duncan, who represents the other defendant, also has filed a motion for continuance and said he intends to file a motion to close the case.

Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps will make the determination of guilt or innocence after the trial and there will be no jury.

The case has received national news coverage, with some news organizations raising questions about the way the investigation into the allegations has been handled. National, state and local news organizations, including the Herald-Star of Steubenville, also will have legal representation at the hearing today.

“Closure of these proceedings would only intensify these concerns and fan the flames of any perception that the allegations will not be handled properly,” said Columbus attorney Kevin Shook in his filing on behalf of the Associated Press, ABC, CNN, CBS News, the New York Times and WEWS-TV.

Shook said the media has a well-established constitutional right to cover court hearings and Madison would have a difficult time successfully arguing for the exceptions allowed to such coverage. Those include “a reasonable and substantial basis” that an open trial would endanger the defendant and the trial’s fairness, and that the potential for harm outweighs the benefits of an open trial.

Fitzsimmons, in his motion to close further proceedings, said the hearings will involve “highly sensitive and personal matters” for his 16-year-old client, to whom he refers only as Jane Doe in the motion.