One of the two Steubenville High School football players accused of raping a teenage girl has defended his innocence to ABC News's "20/20," after media coverage of the case caused a firestorm in the small Ohio town and on social media.
"She had her arm wrapped around me and one hand on my chest. It just felt like she was coming on to me," Ma'Lik Richmond, whose trial starts this week, told the news outlet.
"20/20" will air the full interview on March 22, but promotional excerpts online include Richmond saying that, in the backseat of the car where the alleged rape began, the girl was kissing the neck of the other accused football player, Trent Mays. Richmond also claimed that a widely circulated picture, in which the girl appears to be unconscious while two boys carry her by her arms and feet, was a joke.
"She was just like laughing, we were all talking, just clowning around and that's when her ex-boyfriend was like, 'Let me get a picture of this drunk B. And that's when we took the picture," Richmond said.
As the Steubenville investigation progressed and more details unfolded -- like the video leaked by hackers of a young man referring to the alleged victim as the "dead girl" -- media interviews have, for the most part, featured local authorities and attorneys, as opposed to eye-witnesses or the accused.
Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University in New York City, told The Huffington Post that it's not unheard of for defense attorneys to agree to let their clients be interviewed if they feel it could serve to their advantage.
"Attorneys are always trying to appeal to the public in some way," Denno said. "The media coverage is pretty damning, so it's not a bad move for an attorney to want to try and correct, or try and soften, what might have happened that night. If the client is someone who comes across well, then that can also help."
Denno argued that, despite all the negative attention the two defendants have encountered, the key issue at play in the trial will be whether the girl's attorneys can prove that she did not consent, something that's proven difficult in the past.
"The law is written in such a way that it can be a challenge for victims," Denno said. "We've had a lot of cases with victims and drinking, and unless they're out-cold unconscious, it can be challenging."
As Cleveland's The Plain Dealer previously reported, the defense plans to argue that the alleged victim consented. The news outlet further noted that, according to Ohio law, the case could come down to whether the amount the girl drank that night "substantially impaired" her ability to give consent.
Reuters recently obtained a copy of the court filings and noted that the defense lawyers also intend to argue that the girl had previously told friends that she wanted to have sex with the football players.