TODAY

TODAY   |  March 13, 2013

Steubenville rape trial begins, dividing Ohio town

The trial of two high school football players charged with raping a young woman during a night of partying has begun, and it’s causing a rift in a town where football is a great source of pride. NBC’s Ron Allen reports.

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>>> and in ohio today, trial begins for two high school football players charged with raping a young woman during a night of party hopping. nbc's ron allen is at the courthouse. good morning, ron.

>> reporter: good morning, natalie. the case has consumed this spal town where just about everyone has a connection to the local high school football team. it got national headlines when tweets, texts and pictures from the night in question exploded across social media , igniting allegations of a small town cover-up. this picture, defense attorneys admit, shows the defendants holding the 16-year-old girl they are accused of raping. prosecutors claim the girl was intoxicated. doesn't remember what happened that night and the two defendants treated her, quote, like a toy.

>> we believe the evidence will show that the victim was in no condition to give consent and she did not give consent.

>> reporter: however, the defense says the accuser and mays were in a relationship and that she willingly spent the evening with him.

>> the young lady 's intentions throughout this evening were going to be to pursue our client and engage in sexual activity with our client.

>> reporter: as word of the incident spread on social media , fuelled by this video --

>> she's deader than a doornail.

>> reporter: showing a young man authorities say didn't witness the alleged incident mocking the victim.

>> shame on you!

>> reporter: activists converged on steubenville accusing officials of turning a blind eye to protect the big red , the power house high school football team and a source of great pride. state prosecutors who stepped in to avoid local conflict of interest say they are still investigating. for now the focus is on mays, richmond and their accuser.

>> the defense doesn't have to prove anything. the prosecutor has to prove she was unable to resist or consent.

>> reporter: consent will likely be the most important issue in this case. there is no jury. a juvenile court judge who doesn't live in this part of ohio has been brought in to decide the case. an attorney for the accuser and the family said they are ready for the trial to begin so they can move on and continue healing.