While courtroom media led by Nancy Grace dissect every sleazy revelation of the Jodi Arias murder case in Arizona, a trial that actually deserves the attention it is getting starts Wednesday in Steubenville, Ohio.
An overflow crowd of reporters from across the country is expected at the juvenile court trial of two Steubenville High School football players. They are accused of dragging a semi-conscious drunk girl from party to party last August and digitally penetrating her, while their friends posted photos and videos on social media and made crude jokes about her.
The case has taken on a socio-political dimension. Women’s advocates and online hackers say it has explosed a “rape culture” in which players in a football-crazy small town have been allowed to get away with almost anything. A Ms. Magazine blogger has demanded that Steubenville cancel its football season.
Conservative bloggers counter that a “digital lynch mob” of liberal American-culture haters has misrepresented the facts and defamed the town. Steubenville’s government has put up a website to defend itself against various charges, including the allegation that local officials tried to cover up the rapes.
Only the two youths, ages 16 and 17, who are alleged to have committed the sex acts are on trial. In an ABC interview, one of them maintained the sex was consensual.
No charges were filed against teenage witnesses for taking pornographic images of a minor or failing to report a felony, or against any adults who may have furnished alcohol to minors. An online petition with 85,000 signatures urges the prosecution of Steubenville grad Michael Nodianos, 18, who made an infamous 12-minute video joking about the rapes in graphic terms. Nodianos’ defenders counter that he didn’t actually witness anything and that there’s no law against talking like a drunken jerk. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says he will announce after the trial whether anyone else will be charged.
Steubenville, a town of 18,000 in economically depressed southeastern Ohio, is known mainly as the hometown of Dean Martin and for its nine-time state champion football team, the Big Red, which most recently won the title in 2006.
The role of hackers associated with the groups Anonymous and Knight Sec has been controversial: They uncovered the Nodianos video and other social media evidence, but also have posted unverifiable rumors and leaked court documents that identify the victim, an honor-roll student and athlete at a neighboring high school. She was apparently the ex-girlfriend of the witness who took the Instagram photo shown at left and also made rude comments about her on Twitter.
For more information: The main Twitter hashtag is #steubenville. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has been doing a good job of coverage. An AP backgrounder is here. Local blogger Alexandria Goddard posted the youths’ tweets about the rapes before they could be deleted and continues to weigh in. Conservative writer Lee Stranahan (a disciple of the late Andrew Breitbart) has been having tweet wars with hackers and debating women’s advocates, including comedian Roseanne Barr.
Barr has appeared on Nancy Grace’s HLN show to talk about the case, and Grace promised to cover the trial. But with the X-rated trial of the attractive Jodi Arias single-handedly boosting HLN in the ratings, it’ll be interesting to see if she actually makes the trip. We e-mailed Grace to ask about it–no response yet.