Lawyers to seek new venue for Ohio teen rape trial

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Story highlights

  • Lawyer for one suspect is concerned about safety for his client
  • A spokesman for state prosecutors had no direct comment Sunday
  • Both Steubenville, Ohio, teens deny the allegations against them, their lawyers say

The attorney for one of two teenagers charged with rape in a case that has consumed a small Ohio town wants a judge to postpone and move his client's trial, he said Sunday.

Adam Nemann, the lawyer for 16-year-old defendant Trent Mays, told CNN he wants the case moved out of Steubenville because of the extensive publicity it has received "and what we perceive as threats to individuals, perhaps witnesses, and also defendants and even defense counsel."

Nemann would not elaborate on those threats but said media attention and an explosion of online postings about the case are another part of the reason he'll be filing motions for a postponement and a change of venue.

"We're concerned about safety issues at this point," he added.

Mays and co-defendant Ma'lik Richmond, also 16, are charged with raping a teenage girl during late-night partying and drinking in August. Both teens are scheduled to be tried February 13 in a juvenile court in Steubenville, in eastern Ohio near the West Virginia state line.

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Richmond's lawyer, Walter Madison, told CNN he also plans to file a motion for change of venue "and another motion that will probably necessitate a hearing." He declined to elaborate.

A judge from Cincinnati is hearing the case after a local judge recused himself to avoid an appearance of conflict, and the local district attorney asked Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office to handle the prosecution. DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney did not directly address Nemann's concerns Sunday.

"The investigation is ongoing, and it includes all aspects of the case, including evidence put out in social media," Tierney said. "So the investigation is still ongoing at this time. We'll review any motions they file."

Trials are often granted a change of venue because of the fear of a tainted jury pool. But in this case, a judge will determine the teens' fate. Police Chief William McCafferty said many people in town know someone who may have a connection to the case.

CNN is not identifying the girl, a juvenile, in accordance with its policy not to release the names of alleged rape victims. Although the suspects also are juveniles, CNN is identifying them because they have been publicly named by a juvenile court judge, by defense attorneys and in media accounts.

Special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter told a judge at a probable cause hearing last October that the girl "was unresponsive, not in a position of consent, and they knew about it, and let's be clear, they knew she was drunk."

Lawyers for both defendants have said their clients are not guilty.

"We deny the accusations completely. We deny the lack of consent. We deny that there was sexual activity. We deny that there was a rape. And we steadfastly maintain that," Nemann said.

Madison said his client has denied the charge in court. The attorney has complained that Richmond's presumption of innocence has been destroyed by the publicity surrounding the case.

"Our emotional response is he's a juvenile, and it's life-altering -- and that was before it became the focus of international media attention," Madison said, adding, "All I want is justice."

The case gained national attention after The New York Times published a lengthy piece on it in December and when the activist hacker group Anonymous posted a previously unpublicized video of teenagers cracking jokes about the case.

Nemann said his motions will be filed under seal, but he plans to tell the judge that his case may be hamstrung by hesitant witnesses. Some potential witnesses who attended the parties where the alleged sexual assaults occurred are refusing to talk with his defense team, the lawyer said.

"I'm concerned about whether or not the case should be tried in this area," Nemann said. "Perhaps the fact that it is in the Steubenville area is going to prohibit certain people from wanting to come forward and testify."