Local News

Rape Charges Dropped in Duke Lacrosse Case

Posted December 22, 2006

— Defense attorneys called Friday for all charges to be dismissed against three Duke University lacrosse players after prosecutors dropped rape charges against them.

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong said he didn't have enough evidence to proceed with a rape case but said he plans to take the players to trial on kidnapping and sexual offense charges.

Reade Seligmann, 20, Collin Finnerty, 20, and David Evans, 23, were indicted last spring after a North Carolina Central University student told police she was beaten and raped by three lacrosse players while performing as a stripper at a March 13 team party.

The players have denied any wrongdoing in the case, which has split the Durham community in recent months.

"Mr. Nifong, do the honorable thing -- end this case because there isn't a case to bring," defense attorney Wade Smith said.

"It is the ethical duty of a district attorney not to win a case, not to prosecute all cases, but to see that justice is done," defense attorney Joe Cheshire said.

Nifong declined to comment on the dismissal, and his office closed Friday afternoon for a Christmas party.

Duke President Richard Brodhead expressed relief at the dismissal and called on Nifong to turn the case over to an independent investigator.

“Given the certainty with which the district attorney made his many public statements regarding the rape allegation, his decision today to drop that charge must call into question the validity of the remaining charges," Brodhead said in a statement. "The district attorney should now put this case in the hands of an independent party who can restore confidence in the fairness of the process. Further, Mr. Nifong has an obligation to explain to all of us his conduct in this matter."

Duke athletics director Joe Alleva called the dismissal "another step in establishing the entire truth in this matter."

Finnerty's parents also said they were relieved that the rape charges were dropped.

"Dropping this charge is long overdue. Dropping the other charges is long overdue, but we'll take it one step at a time," Kevin Finnerty said.

Maryellen Finnerty said the move was "just more proof of what we've known all along, that this entire case has been built on lies."

The dismissal follows a Thursday meeting between Nifong's investigator and the woman. She told the investigator that she couldn't testify "with certainty" that she was raped, according to the dismissal motions.

"Since there is no scientific or other evidence independent of the victim's testimony that would corroborate specifically (a rape charge), the state is unable to meet its burden of proof with respect to this offense," the motions said.

A week ago, defense attorneys disclosed that a report issued in the case initially didn't disclose that the woman had DNA on her from several men, none of which was a member of the lacrosse team.

Cheshire called the fact that the dismissal came days after that disclosure a "transparent coincidence."

"After all these months and all that these young men have been through ... why are they investigating the case now?" Cheshire asked.

"His entire case rises and falls on the statement of the accuser. He has no other evidence," Cheshire said. "Going forward with a case when he knows he has multiple, different, contradictory statements from that person, is that seeing that justice is done, or is that simply trying to fit facts into a prosecution to prosecute it at all costs?"

Nifong has never talked to the woman about the details of the incident, although investigators from his office and the Durham Police Department have interviewed her repeatedly over the past nine months.

In addition to questioning the woman's varying statements, defense attorneys have repeatedly hammered other elements of the prosecution's case, including the DNA report and the photo line-up the woman used to identify the three players.

"There is not a spider web of evidence," Smith said. "We have a bare assertion by a woman that a criminal act occurred. ... We have an assertion and nothing else."

Cheshire expressed frustration that the sexual offense and kidnapping charges still stand against against the players. Those charges carry significant prison time, he said, so the defense will continue preparing to fight those charges in court.

"This case is quite clearly not over," Cheshire said.

Family members of the players and other attorneys said the case needed to be dismissed altogether.

"The state needs to apologize to these three boys, to their families. They need to immediately take dismissals and apologize to the entire community," said Bill Thomas, the attorney for an unindicted lacrosse player.

104 Comments

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  • mjblawlady Dec 23, 7:14 p.m.

    Southerner, you are right but still a shade off. Nifong didn't "buy" the accusers story. He saw this as a media event of biblical proportions and played it to get re-elected! In fact, to the best of previous records up until at least a week ago, Nifong didn't care enough to personally interview a "victim" in such a huge case. The police do the initial interviews and detectives/rape investigators are supposed to do the follow-ups to see if there is sufficient evidence to support the charging of any defendant. Having worked as a CSI, everyone knows how critical DNA and other microscopic evidence is...you can't just rely on someone's telling of a story. Yes, her story is important, but only if it is supported by the evidence. The Duke players lacked in judgement for hiring a stripper, but no one ever said young people ALWAYS make perfect decisions. When the accuser's own friend couldn't back up her story, that should have been the very first RED FLAG Mr. Nifong!!!!!! *More to follow*

  • kd4ell Dec 23, 4:20 p.m.

    We need to know the name of this person who originally claimed she was raped. Since she can't remember being raped....show her picture and tell her name because she is not longer shielded by the rape law. Nifong should be arrested!

  • narck9 Dec 23, 3:40 p.m.

    Goodbye to Mike Nifong!!!!

  • narck9 Dec 23, 3:29 p.m.

    I think it is ironic that Michael Richards had to apologize to "reverend" Jesse Jackson for his comment to several minorities in a nightclub but Jesse is has not apologized to the Duke Lacrosse players. They have been brandished all over the media by the NAACP, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as racist. The entire Durham community has ( of course ) turned this into a black / white issue. I would like to think that the Durham community has learned its lesson from this but I doubt it. Jesse, I think you owe them an apology. Doubt we will see it!

  • shell24 Dec 23, 2:39 p.m.

    I have believed from jump that these men were innocent. Sadly my race felt differently. I am so glad that justice has prevailed however, I hope that the other charges will be dropped. To these young men and their families I hope that you are able to enjoy your Christams together and know that there are people of all races on your side. As for this woman....they need to make her identity known. Since she is no longer a "rape victim" we should know who she is. And if anyone says they are trying to protcet her....she does not need protection. She was not thinking about those young mens protection. I hope that the Black Panthers, Rev. Jesse Jackson and so many others apologized to these young men. I feel sorry for her children. They have to grow up and be humilated by the life that their mother is leading. She should be sued and arrested for her lies and misrepresentation. I am sure she has NO $$$, but she should be sued for the principal of the matter.

  • karpncsu Dec 23, 2:00 p.m.

    Thank the Lord DA Nifong has finally seen part of the light. This case was a setup from the start. Due to the dancers "memory lapse" the kidnapping and sexual assault charges should be dropped also. I hope Nifong is not still considering having these guys to submit to paternity test. Anyone that can add can figure up the incident took place in March and she is due in Feb (if she is even pregnant) 11 months!! The only negative I can say about the Lacrosse players is that should not have even put themselves in the situation, but sometimes people have to learn from mistakes. Even though the rape charges have been dropped these guys will always be labeled. I think they should consider cival lawsuits against the dancer and the DA!

  • str8-line Dec 23, 12:47 p.m.

    Thank God not another OJ trial........

  • blacksheep Dec 23, 12:28 p.m.

    "I hear much of people's calling out to punish the guilty,
    but very few are concerned to clear the innocent."
    Daniel Defoe died April 24, 1731

  • IHave1-2 Dec 23, 9:51 a.m.

    Mr. Nifong has a sign on his door "...No Media..." PLEASE!!!! Step up to the plate. You goofed, admit it to all the viewers and taxpayers you lied to and move on. Maybe even apologize for using this case to get votes at any cost...

  • llcraft Dec 23, 9:22 a.m.

    I, too think that these charges are the result of a totally incompetent DA and police investigators. But why does the natiional media continure to say that the "accuser is pregnant" when the local media has announced, days ago, that she gave birth? Someone, please let the right hand know what the left hand is doing!

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