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Originally published Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:03 AM

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Key witnesses expected in Ohio rape trial

Ohio prosecutors prepared to call key eyewitnesses in their case against two high school football players charged with raping a 16-year-old girl after an alcohol-fueled party last summer.

AP Legal Affairs Writer

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio —

Ohio prosecutors prepared to call key eyewitnesses in their case against two high school football players charged with raping a 16-year-old girl after an alcohol-fueled party last summer.

The testimony of three teenage boys who watched the alleged attacks is a crucial part of the state's evidence, since the girl has said she has no memory of the event. Two of the boys took video and photographic images of the alleged attacks, then later deleted them.

Friday's testimony will follow evidence introduced Thursday in the form of sometimes graphic text messages in which one of the defendants, Trent Mays, gave differing accounts of what happened between him and the girl. At one point Mays appeared to enlist the help of a friend in whose basement one of the alleged attacks happened to cover up the event.

In other messages introduced by the prosecution, the girl begged a friend for information about the night, saying she had no memory of the evening and feared she might have been drugged.

"Swear to God I don't remember doing anything with them," the girl wrote to the friend who authorities say saw the assaults.

"I wasn't being a slut. They were taking advantage of me," she also wrote to the same boy.

Mays, 17, and Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, are charged with digitally penetrating the West Virginia girl, first in the back seat of a moving car after a party Aug. 11 and then in the basement of a house. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. The two maintain their innocence.

Prosecutors insist the girl was too drunk to consent to sex, while defense attorneys have portrayed her as someone who was intoxicated but still in control of her actions. Witnesses have said she was so drunk she threw up and had trouble walking and speaking.

In one text after the alleged assault, the girl told a boy who prosecutors say watched the attack, "Wait, I think I was drugged. I know I have no memory from after I left," the party.

Special Judge Thomas Lipps is hearing the case without a jury. He told participants Thursday he would keep the trial in session well into the evening and through the weekend.

The case has riveted the small city of Steubenville amid allegations that more students should have been charged and led to questions about the influence of the local football team, a source of a pride in a community that suffered massive job losses with the collapse of the steel industry.

The texts introduced Thursday in juvenile court also included ones in which Mays admitted that he digitally penetrated the girl. In other messages, he told friends he'd participated in a different, mutual sex act with the girl.

He also sent messages to his friends to try to get them to gloss over what happened that night. In a text to a boy who lives in the house where the second attack is said to have happened, Mays wrote, "Just say she came to your house and passed out."

In another message that prosecutors said Mays sent to the girl's father, he said, "this is all a big misunderstanding."

Prosecutors also presented texts sent by Mays to friends in which he suggested Steubenville football coach Reno Saccoccia would let the players involved off lightly.

The coach "...took care of it," Mays said in one text introduced by prosecutors.

"Like he was joking about it so I'm not worried," Mays said in another text.

Saccoccia has not commented about the allegations, and Steubenville school officials have refused to make him available. Phone and email messages were left after hours for Superintendent Michael McVey. The district has promised to boost education programs about bullying, date rape and sexual harassment and add training for faculty and staff members.

Additional testimony Thursday came from Sean McGhee, a former Steubenville high school student who said he considered the girl his friend and said she was extremely drunk the night of the party. He said he was upset after hearing about the alleged assault and texted Mays.

Dissatisfied with Mays' account, he texted back: "I saw the pix, bro. Don't lie."

Walter Madison, an attorney for Richmond, challenged McGhee's account, saying he may have exaggerated in his mind the girl's intoxication because of his anger over the allegations.

Authorities said they collected 17 cellphones in their investigation. The evidence they yielded is considered crucial to prosecutors' case against the boys because of photos taken that evening.

If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they turn 21.

The Associated Press normally does not identify minors charged in juvenile court, but Mays and Richmond have been widely identified in news coverage, and their names have been used in open court.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus

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