Protesters gathered in front of the of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville (Reuters)
Protesters gathered in front of the of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville (Reuters)

Authorities investigating rape accusations against two high school American footballers have launched a website which sets to refute claims of a cover-up and of shielding the other members of the team from a more rigorous investigation.

Ma'lik Richmond and Trenton Mays, both 16, and two of the most celebrated members of the "Big Red" Steubenville High School football team in Ohio, have been charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl at a house party last August. They are due to appear in court to face trial in February.

Public interest in the case has widened over the past week after hacker group released a 12-minute video of fellow a "Big Red" high-school football team making a series of crass and explicit jokes about the girl at the centre of the alleged rape, believed to have been filmed on the night of the incident.

Knight Sec, a strand of the hacktivist group Anonymous, had previously released a video containing screen grabs of tweets, and Instagram photos from other Big Red players at the party who they believe should also be prosecuted.

Small Town Stars Above the Law?

In response to the claims of a botched investigation into the players who play for the much-loved small town football team, Steubenville authorities and local police force have set up the Steubenville Facts website to contest the criticism the force has faced.

Part of the outcry from the case is that athletes from the "Big Red" sports programme are perceived to act above the law in a town where more than half of the 18,000 population turn up to every home game to support the high-school football team.

The New York Times suggested during a feature on the case last month: "The team's web site declares that Big Red is 'Keeping Steubenville on the map.' That is probably true."

Upon the launch of the Steubenville Facts website, City Manager Cathy Davison said: "When people are saying that our police department did not follow procedure, that the football team runs the city, that is not the case.

"They went by the book. Everything was handled in an above-board fashion to make sure that the case can benefit from the fullest extent of the law."

The site appears to be give direct response from the Knight Sec videos and the suppose damming tweets. Among the tweets alleged to have been posted by Steubenville team players "Song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana" as well as tweets which were tagged with #rape and the suggestion the girl was also urinated on.

There was also a widely-circulated picture of an unresponsive girl being carried by her hands and ankles, believed to have been taken on the night of the alleged rape.

The website sates: "Nothing in Ohio's criminal statutes makes it a crime for someone to ridicule a rape victim on a video or otherwise say horrible things about another person. Further, nothing in the law allows someone who says repugnant things on Twitter, Facebook, or other Internet sites to be criminally charged for such statements."

The site also reassures 30 of the 38 officers involved in the case did not graduate from Steubenville High School.

The furore surrounding the case continued over the weekend when Jefferson County sheriff Fred Abdalla appeared in front of more than 1,000 Anonymous protestors, part of the newly-formed Occupy Steubenville movement, to say no further suspects would be charged as part of the investigations.

He told the restless crowd: "I'm not going to stand here and try to convince you that I'm not the bad guy, you've already made your minds up."

Responding to the 12-minute video released by Knight Sec, which includes a number of jokes about the alleged rape of the girl and suggestion she was "deader than  Trayvon Martin", Abdalla described the video as "disgusting" but said it does not add any new evidence in terms of crimes.

"It's stupidity" he said: "But you can't arrest somebody for being stupid."

Abdalla told Reuters: "People have got their minds made up. A case like this, who would want to cover any of it up?"