By Drew Singer
(Reuters) - The controversial trial of two high school football players accused of raping a classmate will remain open to the public and will not be relocated to another town, an Ohio judge ruled on Wednesday.
Prosecutors and an attorney representing the accuser had sought a closed trial, arguing that public access to the juvenile trial would subject the accuser to unwanted publicity and make potential witnesses reluctant to testify.
Visiting Hamilton County Judge Tom Lipps said the presence of the media would prevent inaccurate reporting and enhance public confidence in the juvenile justice system, according to his written ruling, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
"An open hearing is especially valuable where rumors, mischaracterizations and opinions unsupported by facts have reportedly been repeated in social media postings and other published outlets," Lipps wrote. "An open hearing will diminish the influence of such postings and publications."
Prosecutors have accused Ma'Lik Richmond and Trent Mays, both 16, of raping a classmate at a party attended by many teammates last August in Steubenville, a close-knit city of 19,000 near the Pennsylvania border.
The case attracted national attention after the hacker activist group Anonymous publicized a picture of two young men carrying a girl by her wrists and ankles and released a video showing other young men joking about the alleged assault.
Richmond's lawyer, Walter Madison, said previously on CNN that his client was one of the young men in the photograph - which he said was taken out of context - but does not appear in the video. A lawyer for Mays has not publicly commented on the postings.
Community leaders have accused authorities of protecting the school's popular football program by not charging more players who could have prevented the alleged attack.
Lipps also ruled on Wednesday that the trial will remain in Steubenville. He set a trial date for March 13.
Reuters generally does not identify people who say they have been victims of sex crimes.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch, Bernard Orr)
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