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As rape trial opens, prosecutor says girl was 'too impaired to say no'

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.

The two Ohio high school football stars accused of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl humiliated “somebody who was too impaired to say no, somebody who was too impaired to say stop,” a prosecutor said Wednesday.

In her opening statement at a trial that has divided the football-obsessed town of Steubenville, prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter also said that the girl was “soft-spoken, mumbling and not participating” in the assault.

Two players, quarterback Trent Mays and wide receiver Ma’Lik Richmond, are accused of using their hands to violate the girl in a car and in a basement during a night of victory parties last August.

The case became national news because graphic cellphone photos and video, including a YouTube posting of a partygoer cracking crude jokes about the alleged rape, spread on social media.

In a brief opening statement, Brian Duncan, the lawyer representing Mays, said simply: “Trent Mays did not rape the young lady in question.” The lawyer for Richmond declined to make an opening statement.

Jason Cohn / Reuters file

Harding Stadium, home of the Steubenville High Big Red football team. Two members are going on trial Wednesday for allegedly raping a 16-year-old girl in a case that drew national attention.

The girl, who told police she didn’t remember the incident, will be among dozens of witnesses taking the stand. Three players who have not been charged but allegedly witnessed the encounters are expected to testify for the prosecution.

The prosecution’s evidence also includes a photograph posted on Instagram of Mays, 17, and Richmond, 16, carrying the teen out of a house by her arms and legs.

The prosecution called six witnesses on Wednesday, including two 17-year-old girls who knew the alleged victim.

Questioned by prosecution and defense attorneys about how much the teen girl had to drink, the first witnesses testified they saw the alleged victim on the night of Aug. 11.

One of the girls, a Steubenville High student, said alleged victim was having difficulty walking but never appeared to pass out. She also testified that after midnight, Mays and the victim, who said she was OK, left a house party. That came despite efforts by the witness to stop her.

Prosecutors appeared to try to show how drunk and nonparticipatory the alleged victim was, while the defense attempted to show that she was making decisions that night and at one point told friends she was fine and able to take care of herself.

The other 17-year-old witness said she had never seen her friend so intoxicated.

The final witnesses of the day were the Steubenville police detectives involved in confiscating phones and other devices from people involved in the case and getting them to the state lab for analysis. The defense on cross examination was able to get police to concede it took 16 days before the accusers shirt and pants were taken to the lab for analysis.

The trial has put the town, where “Big Red football” dominates life, under a harsh spotlight. Town officials and business leaders have taken to the media to say that the case doesn’t reflect Steubenville.

In a sign of the tension surrounding the case, Richmond’s grandmother has said she has been threatened.

If convicted, Mays and Richmond could be held in a juvenile jail until they are 21.

NBC News correspondent Ron Allen, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.