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Rape trial of high school football players begins in Ohio

Harding Stadium, home of the Steubenville High Big Red football team sits in the middle of Steubenville, Ohio, January 8, 2013.REUTERS/Jason
Harding Stadium, home of the Steubenville High Big Red football team sits in the middle of Steubenville, Ohio, January 8, 2013.REUTERS/Jason

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) - Two high school football players accused of raping a girl will face trial in Steubenville, Ohio, on Wednesday in a case that has become a national example of social media's powerful influence in modern society.

Quarterback Trent Mays and wide receiver Ma'lik Richmond, both 16 at the time of the incident, are charged with raping their classmate, whose name has been withheld by Reuters, at a teammate's house after a night of drinking on August 11.

Prosecutors say Richmond and Mays sexually assaulted the girl as she lay naked on the basement floor, too drunk to move or speak. The girl told police she did not remember what happened, but reported the incident the next day once she heard about it from her friends.

The case might have never been known outside the local area. But after the party, a photograph began circulating on Twitter of two people carrying a passed-out girl by her arms and legs. Along with the photo, graphic banter on social media among people who had attended the party suggested that a rape had occurred and that more than two players were involved.

The case went viral on social media, and the town was accused of wrapping a cone of silence around the team to shield other players from prosecution.

The global computer hacking network Anonymous got involved. It obtained and publicized a video that it said showed several Steubenville players joking about a rape, and organized protests on the steps of the county courthouse in Steubenville that drew people from out of state.

Mays and Richmond will be tried as juveniles. The proceedings could last through Friday.

Attorneys for the players say that there is more to the story than social media have said and that there has been a rush to judgment that the two are guilty.

The sex with the girl was "consensual," according to a court filing provided to Reuters outlining the case defense lawyers plan to pursue in the trial. The girl also told friends before the incident that she wanted to have sex with players, the filing says.

(Reporting by Drew Singer; Editing by James B. Kelleher and Lisa Shumaker)

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