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Ohio rape case: Evidence on social media creates new world for justice (+video)

Investigators in the Ohio rape case confiscated electronic devices from those involved. Evidence from social media allows jurors to rely more on common sense and less on expert testimony.

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Young people’s use of social media and mobile technologies to document every facet and event in their lives, including violent and criminal behavior, has drawn national attention to the investigation into an alleged rape of a teenage girl in Ohio.

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Not only are the social media being used in support of the pending legal arguments for both the alleged victim and the defendants, but this case and others are creating the potential for a whole new courtroom dynamic between the prosecution, defense, and jury.

Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, are charged with raping a 16-year-old girl at two separate parties in August. The names of both suspects, who are juveniles, are being used because a court judge, defense attorneys, and local media made their names public.

The state attorney general’s office, which is handling the case, says both boys participated in raping the girl, who remains unnamed because she is a victim, while she was unconscious. Mr. Mays is also charged with the “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”

Two days after the alleged attacks was reported to law enforcement, local police confiscated about a dozen electronic devices belonging to all of the individuals involved. The devices were then turned over to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, which reviewed tens of thousands of e-mails, texts, and photos. Mays and Mr. Richmond were arrested three days later. They are currently under house arrest.

Prosecutors say a photo taken at the party shows both boys holding the alleged victim by her arms and legs, suggesting her unconscious state. Defense attorneys deny she was unconscious, and claim to have a text message from the girl sent to their client that says, “I know you didn’t rape me.”

Also circulating are text messages posted to some social networks that reference that the rape happened, while the New York Times reports that a second photo snapped by a mobile phone shows the girl naked on a floor. Adding to the digital evidence is a video published online by Anonymous, the international hacker activist group, showing a group of students joking about the assault.

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