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Motion: DA's Wife Received Phone Survey On Duke Lacrosse Case

Posted September 20, 2006
Updated January 7, 2007

— The district attorney prosecuting three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape asked a judge Wednesday to compel defense lawyers to tell him whether they hired a pollster to test the mood of potential jurors.

In a motion filed Wednesday in Durham County Superior Court, District Attorney Mike Nifong said the questioning should stop immediately, whether or not defense lawyers are funding the telephone surveys, which he described as a "thinly disguised attempt to influence the opinions of respondents."

The motion contains an affidavit filed by Nifong's wife, Cy Gurney, that describes a call she received on the evening of Sept. 11. The surveyor wanted to gauge attitudes in the community, according to the affidavit, and then went on to ask a number of questions about the Duke lacrosse case.

In her affidavit, Gurney said the person who questioned her about the case asked how likely she would be to believe a stripper who said she was raped and whether she believed Durham investigators conducted an unfair lineup of suspects in the case.

Lawyers on both sides in high-profile cases frequently use surveys, focus groups and consultants to fine-tune courtroom strategies and jury selection.

In a joint response filed late Wednesday, defense attorneys for all three suspects said they had informed Nifong on Aug. 25 that they defense was likely to conduct such polling and that it was necessary because of what they call prejudicial comments by the DA early in the case.

The polling, defense attorneys said, was limited to 300 interviews. According to Nifong's motion, the New York research firm Central Research Services, Inc., conducted it.

The Duke case stems from a March 13 incident at an off-campus house where a woman told police three men sexually assaulted her in a bathroom during a lacrosse team party.

A grand jury later indicted the three players -- Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans -- on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense. Defense attorneys have strongly proclaimed their clients' innocence.

Nifong filed a second motion Wednesday asking the state to pay $595 for a drug test administered to the accuser for the drug Ecstasy. The court document said a defense attorney for a player who was not charged had told Nifong that the woman was on the drug.

The motion does not say what the test results showed.

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