STEUBENVILLE - Potential witnesses for two high school student-athletes facing rape accusations have been threatened and pressured not to testify and some are reluctant to come forward, defense attorneys said Monday as they consider whether to ask the trial be moved and closed to the public.
At issue is publicity surrounding the case and the concerns some witnesses have that their names and addresses may be published through social media and on the Internet.
Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps has previously declined a request to close the proceedings, which are set for Feb. 13 in Steubenville. Both defendants are charged as juveniles.
Potential defense witnesses "are reluctant to sacrifice their college career, their reputation, or their otherwise good standing in whatever community they may be found for fear of being vilified, and certain personal information finding its way on the Internet," said Walter Madison, an attorney for one of the defendants.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is overseeing the case's prosecution, said the decision to move or close the case is up to Lipps. He declined to comment on the attorneys' concerns.
"There is obviously a lot going on in the social media and there's a lot going on in the mainstream media, but ultimately this case will be decided by a juvenile judge who will listen to the evidence, and the case will be presented no differently than it would in any other case," DeWine said.
Brian Duncan, an attorney for the other 16-year-old defendant, also said Monday he's considering a similar request.
"We just want to make sure our client and the other defendant have their proper day in court," Duncan said.
The two boys are set for trial on charges they raped a 16-year-old girl in August. Their attorneys have denied the charges in court.
Public interest in the case increased with the online circulation of the video, more than 12 minutes long, that shows one young man joking about the accuser following the alleged attack. The hackers who released the video allege more people were involved and should be held accountable.