Local News

Duke Lacrosse Trial Could Be Longest In Durham History

Posted August 17, 2006
Updated December 9, 2006

— The trial of three Duke University lacrosse athletes accused of raping an exotic dancer could last longer than any other trial in Durham County, according to a Durham County judge.

That is why attorneys for the three defendants -- Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans -- want the case to be designated as exceptional and to have one judge oversee the case. District Attorney Mike Nifong has agreed to the move.

Doing so, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson wrote in a motion, would "promote efficient administration of justice" because a single judge could, in part, "more expeditiously handle and rule on the motions and issues as they arise by having a thorough knowledge of the history of the actions and of the legal and factual issues."

In a letter to North Carolina Chief Justice Sarah Parker, Hudson recommended that Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith be assigned to the case when it goes to trial in the spring.

Parker, however, must approve the move. It is not clear when she would make that decision.

The longest trial on record, nearly six months, was the 2003 murder trial of Michael Peterson, a Durham novelist and former mayoral candidate accused of killing his wife, Kathleen Peterson. She was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's Durham mansion.

The complexity of the Peterson case resulted in 54 days of testimony and consisted of 66 witnesses and more than 500 pieces of evidence. Jury selection, alone, lasted nearly two months.

The Duke lacrosse case is expected to be just as complex, Hudson said, in part because there are three defendants and three sets of attorneys.

The exceptional case status has been used in only a relatively few number of cases in North Carolina, and if Parker approves, it would be the first time a single judge would preside over a case in Durham County.

Smith, who is currently presiding in Person County, also presided over the trials of two men convicted in

two tailgating shootings outside a North Carolina State University football game two years ago.

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