Lacrosse Team Defense Attorneys Speak Out About Rape Allegations
Posted March 30, 2006
Updated January 7, 2007
District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he is confident a sexual assault occurred on March 13, when two women were hired to perform at a private party. One of the dancers told police she was gang-raped and assaulted for 30 minutes by three men, presumed to be lacrosse athletes.
Members of the lacrosse team have denied the allegations, but have otherwise remained relatively silent about the claims.
Attorneys for some of the athletes said Thursday during a news conference that no sexual assault took place, and that police, prosecutors and the community are passing judgment before results on DNA samples can be returned.
"What happens if the DNA comes back and it's none of these young men? How do you apologize to them? How do you make it right? How do you restore their character?" said defense attorney Butch Williams.
"There have been professors that have said (comments) in classes in which some of these young men have been in that have basically referred to them as rapists and said things like, 'They'll make sure they protect their class against the lacrosse team,'" said attorney Joe Cheshire.
Cheshire also said that Nifong has already convicted the players without charging them and that politics are behind the investigation.
"Let's look at some facts," Cheshire said. "You know, false accusations are made by people all the time for all different types of reasons."
He also blames the district attorney for the growing tension in the community, suggesting Nifong's vocal and visible stance on this case has more to do with this May's election than justice.
"He does not have all the facts, yet he is out there saying not just that three of the boys are guilty, but they're all guilty as aiders and abettors," Cheshire said.
Nifong was appointed district attorney after his predecessor, Jim Hardin, was named as a Superior Court judge in April 2005. This May will be his first run for Durham County district attorney. Earlier this week, he said he himself would prosecute the case.
"There are certainly people who've told me that the timing of this could not be better for the election," Nifong said. "I had nothing to do with the timing of this case. I had nothing to do with anything about this other than the fact that what happened here was one of the worst things that's happened since I have become district attorney."
Cheshire's client, lacrosse team captain David Evans, is one of the three athletes who initially talked to investigators willingly and gave a DNA sample. The alleged rape is said to have taken place at the house rented by Evans and the two other men.
Cheshire said Evans denies that any sexual assault took place, and said that the last two weeks have taken a toll on the student and his family.
"I just want to ask people to hold on and pretend these boys might be their own children," Cheshire said.
But Nifong said he would rather people imagine the victim in the same way.
"When I looked at what happened, I was appalled. I think that most people in this community are appalled," Nifong said. "I think that if Joe Cheshire weren't representing one of the people involved in this case, he might even admit that he was appalled."
Nifong said Thursday that the State Bureau of Investigation, which is expediting testing on DNA samples of 46 of 47 lacrosse team members, has completed the first phase of testing on most of the samples. They hope to have the results back by the end of next week.
DNA Not Only Evidence
Even if the DNA analysis proves inconclusive or doesn't provide a match for any of the athletes, Nifong has said he will have other evidence.
"If the only thing that we ever have in this case is DNA, then we wouldn't have a case," Nifong said Wednesday.
According to the application for a court order seeking DNA samples from the team, a nurse trained to treat rape victims and a physician who treated the woman said they witnessed symptoms consistent with sexual assault. The document also includes details of a search of the house where the woman said she was raped.
"The victim's four red polished fingernails were recovered inside the residence consistent to her version of the attack. She claimed she was clawing at one of the suspect's arms in an attempt to breath (sic) while being strangled. During that time the nails broke off," the police statement said.
Officers who searched the house also recovered the woman's makeup bag, cell phone and a stack of $20 bills consistent with the woman's statement that $400 in cash was taken from her purse after the attack, the police statement said.
Legal professionals not associated with the investigation told WRAL that evidence could be damaging to a suspect because women typically won't leave behind items, such as a purse.
"Those are all pretty strong indications there was a violent struggle and someone left in a hurry," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Wednesday. "That would tend to collaborate that something was done without consent or with force."
Police have also searched a second home occupied by lacrosse team members, but documents describing the location or what investigators found have been sealed by court order, prosecutors and police said. WRAL also learned that on Thursday police searched a dorm and a car at Duke.
Brodhead Issues Letter To Duke Parents
Meanwhile, Duke University President Richard Brodhead sent a letter on Thursday to each of the parents of the university's 6,200 undergraduates, in which he apologized for the situation, calling it "a difficult time" for Duke. Still, he said in the letter, that even times of strain could be educational. He also promised that Durham police have the university's full cooperation in the matter.
On Tuesday, Brodhead suspended the lacrosse team's play until the allegations could be cleared up, saying it was not appropriate for them to play games at this time. He stressed, however, that it was not a punishment.
And on Wednesday, he issued another statement concerning a 911 call made the night of March 13, in which the caller told a 911 dispatcher that racial slurs were made to her and a friend outside the house where the alleged assault occurred. Brodhead called the alleged slurs "disgusting."
Allegations of racism prompted Brodhead to meet with various leaders of Durham's black community Thursday, including Mayor Bill Bell and North Carolina Central University President James Ammons.
"There is broad-based support in this community for these two institutions, but at the same time, there is a strong and firm stance against racial hatred," said Ammons, who is the leader of the school attended by the alleged victim. Bell also expressed concern at the racial angle of the incident and the 911 call.
911 Caller's Identity Unknown
The identity of the 911 caller, however, is not yet known. She identified herself only as someone passing by the house, located on Buchanan Street near Duke. Although police generally have information about a 911 call location, as well as who placed it, a Durham police spokeswoman said Thursday they have neither in this instance.
Not much is known about the woman who said she was raped. Although WRAL does not identify victims of sexual assault or people who claim to be victims, the severity of the allegations has prompted the public to want to know more about her.
Her parents told WRAL that authorities have asked her not to talk about the ordeal. But each day, as the community continues to focus on this case, more details emerge about her.
She is a 28-year-old police psychology student at North Carolina Central University, her parents said, and is trying to maintain a low profile to protect her children, ages 5 and 7.
WRAL learned Thursday that she works for Allure Escort Service, which did not return WRAL's calls. The North Carolina Secretary of State's office does not have the business listed as a corporation. There have been no complaints filed with the State Attorney General's Office regarding Allure.
According to court documents, the woman has a record, which includes a DWI, a misdemeanor eluding arrest charge, and three license suspensions. But she has had no arrests for prostitution or any other related sex crimes.
As for the players, The Raleigh News & Observer reported that 15 of them have faced misdemeanors in the past three years stemming from drunken and disruptive behavior, according to court records.