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Lawyer for accused Ohio rapist blames online group for notoriety

By Drew Singer

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - An Ohio football player seeking to have his rape trial moved and closed to the public is blaming notoriety fueled by an online activist group, according to documents obtained on Wednesday by Reuters.

Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, is one of two members of a Steubenville, Ohio, high school football team charged with raping a classmate at a party attended by many teammates last August.

His attorney, Walter Madison, filed motions this week arguing that closing the trial to the public would be the only way to protect witnesses from exposure by Anonymous, an online activist hacking organization.

Through an active presence on social media as well as at rallies in Steubenville, Anonymous and its supporters have accused authorities of failing to charge players who might have been involved in order to protect the school's football program.

Motions filed by Madison mention Anonymous a dozen times in seven pages, citing the group's threats to break into personal computer accounts and disclose sensitive information about anyone who helps with what it sees as an attempted cover-up.

"Due to Anonymous' threats and the heightened emotional state of the city, witnesses are afraid to testify for fear of being viewed as assisting Ma'Lik Richmond," one motion said. "If material witnesses are reluctant to testify, this will jeopardize Ma'Lik Richmond's constitutional right to present a defense."

The case shot to national prominence earlier this month when Anonymous publicized a picture of the alleged rape victim being carried by her wrists and ankles by two young men.

The group also released a video showing several other young men joking about an alleged assault.

Richmond and Trent Mays, 16, are to be tried as juveniles next month in Steubenville, a city of 19,000 near the Pennsylvania border where football has a powerful influence.

Dan Tierney, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, said prosecutors were reviewing the motions. He did not say if the attorney general's office planned to contest them.

A hearing on the motions before visiting Hamilton County Judge Tom Lipps will be held in Jefferson County Common Please Court on January 25.

In Ohio, it is easier to get juvenile hearings closed than it is adult trials.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Leslie Adler)

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