Jason Cohn / Reuters file
Harding Stadium, home of the Steubenville High Big Red football team. Two members are going on trial Wednesday for allegedly raping a 16-year-old girl in a case that drew national attention.
A divisive rape case that has rocked Steubenville, Ohio, goes to trial Wednesday in a small steel town community whose reputation has been severely damaged by cover-up allegations — just hours after the defense won a battle to force the accusers’ friends to testify.
Accusations that two Steubenville High School football stars used their hands to violate a drunken 16-year-old girl during a night of victory parties in August became national news because of graphic cellphone photos and video that spread on social media.
A YouTube video of a partygoer cracking crude jokes about the alleged rape — made public by an offshoot of the hacker group Anonymous — brought more attention and outrage.
Team quarterback Trent Mays and wide receiver Ma’Lik Richmond, who will stand trial in Jefferson County juvenile court, have denied the charges that they assaulted the girl in a car and in a basement while she was in a stupor and couldn’t give consent.
The girl — who told police she didn’t remember the incident — will be one of dozens of witnesses taking the stand.
The prosecution’s evidence includes a photograph, which was posted on Instagram, of Mays, 17, and Richmond, 16, carrying the teen out of a house by her arms and legs.
Three football players who have not been charged but allegedly witnessed the encounters also are expected to take the stand for the prosecution.
Defense lawyers had asked the court to compel three more teens from neighboring West Virginia to testify. They were originally denied, but late Tuesday night a judge reversed the decision and said two of the teens could be forced to testify.
The third witness — who is the accuser — agreed to do so voluntarily.
On Monday, Mays’ lawyer had asked a judge to throw out the case, saying without those “material witnesses,” he wouldn’t get a fair trial.
The defense motions suggested the trio of witnesses would be asked about the alleged victim’s alcohol consumption and what she said right after the incident and the next morning, according to The Associated Press.
“They’re crucial because they have a great deal to do with the issue of consent,” Mays’ lawyer Adam Nemann told NBC affiliate WTOV. “A couple of the witnesses in particular were best friends of the accuser.”
If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they are 21.
The football-obsessed city of 18,000 where they were once local heroes has also, in some ways, been put on trial.
It took 11 days for prosecutors to charge anyone in the case, and victims’ and women’s groups have questioned why none of the teens who are said to have witnessed Mays and Richmond allegedly attack the girl have been arrested.
“Big Red football” — as the high school team is known — dominates life in Steubenville, where the local prosecutor and juvenile judge have already had to recuse themselves because of ties to the program.
At a Tuesday press conference, city officials and business leaders declined to comment on the criminal allegations but were upset about the harsh spotlight on Steubenville.
“The case shouldn’t be reflective of our town,” City Manager Cathy Davison said, according to WTOV.
In a sign of the tensions surrounding the case, Richmond’s grandmother, Linda Wheat, said she has been threatened.
“I thought these guys were innocent until proven guilty, but they’re not,” Wheat told Reuters. “These people online have made them guilty? Why have they ruined them?”
A lawyer for the girl’s family said they are anxious for the trial to begin — and end.
“The family wants this matter over so they can move on with their lives and their daughter’s healing,” Bob Fitzsimmons told the Associated Press.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.