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Duke Lacrosse Players Face First-Degree Rape, Kidnapping Charges

Posted April 18, 2006
Updated January 7, 2007

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— Two Duke University lacrosse players were arrested on rape charges Tuesday in a scandal that has rocked one of America's elite campuses and raised explosive questions of race, class and the privileged status of college athletes.

Shortly before 5 a.m., sophomores Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Falls, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y. surrendered to authorities at the Durham County Magistrate's Office. They were booked and charged with first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense and first-degree kidnapping.

Seligmann arrived at the magistrate's office in a yellow sports shirt, and Finnerty arrived in a suit and tie. Both were accompanied by law enforcement officers and handcuffed with their hands behind their backs. They had no comments for the media circus camped outside.

One day earlier, a Durham County grand jury returned sealed indictments against two members of the lacrosse team. Who they were, however, was not known.

Less than 24 hours after the indictments were handed down, there were finally two faces to connect to a high-profile month-long investigation by Durham police detectives and Durham County's district attorney into allegations made by an exotic dancer that she was raped, sodomized and beat by three men while performing at an off-campus party on March 14.

The alleged victim, a 27-year-old single mother and student at North Carolina Central University, told police that the men shouted racial slurs at her and another dancer. The accuser is black, the accused are white.

The controversy has embroiled the elite Duke campus, with its president, Richard Brodhead, holding several news conferences and meeting twice with community leaders and N.C. Central's chancellor. The school has since canceled the lacrosse season and the head coach has resigned.

Hours after their arrests, both players paid a $400,000 cash bond to avoid jail time. Because Seligmann had already posted bond, he was able to waive his first court appearance. Finnerty, however, appeared in court as a Durham judge read the charges against him. Their next court date is scheduled for May 15.

Seligmann and Finnerty both went to exclusive all-male Northern prep schools. Seligmann is one of five players from the Delbarton School, a Roman Catholic school in Morristown, N.J., that costs about $22,500-a-year in tuition. He won three state lacrosse titles while he attended the school. But the 6-foot-1 midfielder, with jersey No. 45, saw limited playing time after arriving at Duke, playing only in six games this season and scoring only one goal.

Finnerty attended Long Island's Chaminade High School, where 99 percent of the students go on to college. The 6-foot-3 athlete, who wore jersey No. 13, played in only five games this season and scored two goals with an assist.

Reactions To Arrests Mixed

On the Duke campus, friends of the two athletes could not believe the charges they now face.

"It's preposterous they've been arrested," said Nona Farahnik. "I know them well, and there's not a chance that they're guilty of this crime."

The developments in what has become known as the "Duke lacrosse case" also sent shockwaves through the players' hometowns. Neighbors of Seligmann called the situation "harassment." Many said they were sure he is innocent.

"Knowing Reade Seligmann as well as we do here at Delbarton, I believe him innocent of the charges," said the Rev. Luke Travers, the headmaster at Seligmann's high school.

The same sentiments rang through Finnerty's hometown, where residents called him "a good kid" and were certain that he would be acquitted.

Back in Durham, where the allegations of rape and racism have been deeply felt, having led to near daily protest rallies, leaders of the black community also spoke out, saying they were satisfied with the two arrests.

"We hope to be satisfied as we move forward. That is why we are making it clear today that with the indictments, it is not the end of our monitoring," said the Rev. Dr. William Barber with the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"We must also pray for those indicted yesterday," Barber continued. "The allegations suggest a downward spiral from privilege and advantage to decadence and deviance."

University President Brodhead had little to say about the arrests Tuesday.

"We certainly hope they reach a resolution as quickly as possible," he said before referring to his official statement on Duke's Web site.

In the statement, Brodhead said the case "has brought pain and suffering to all involved and it deeply challenges our ability to balance judgment with compassion" and that "the Duke and Durham communities must restore bonds this episode has strained and learn whatever lessons it affords."

Defense: Charges Without Merit, Case Just Beginning

Attorneys for Seligmann and Finnerty responded to Tuesday's developments, saying their clients are innocent, and that the charges are without merit. Other defense attorneys close to the case suggested a paper trail of cell phone records and ATM receipts may prove the two suspects weren't at the party at the time the alleged rape occurred.

Seligmann is "absolutely innocent," said his attorney, Kirk Osborn. When asked why his client was charged, Osborn said, "Apparently it was a photographic identification, and we all know how reliable that is."

Finnerty's lawyer, Bill Cotter, pointed out that a grand jury indictment is only based on the state's evidence.

"They hear one side of the story. They almost always indict. The next jury will hear the entire story," he said.

Seligmann and Finnerty's student status at Duke was not immediately known Tuesday. Larry Moneta, vice-president of student affairs at Duke, said in a written statement that the university is prohibited under federal privacy regulations from releasing information regarding student disciplinary matters.

Historically, it has been the university’s practice to issue an interim suspension when a student is charged with a felony or when the student’s presence on the campus may create an unsafe situation.

Cotter said his client would not be returning.

Meanwhile, Durham police investigators executed a search warrant on Finnerty's dorm room Tuesday and removed some items. What they were looking for, however, was not known. Finnerty and Seligmann lived in the same dorm -- Edens Residence Hall, the home of several lacrosse players -- but were not roommates.

Although some people may see the arrests as the end of this controversial case, Raleigh defense attorney Joe Cheshire believes the case is just the beginning.

"The district attorney has said there's another person he's interested in charging and he certainly hasn't ruled out any of those players," said Cheshire.

In a statement released Tuesday, District Attorney Mike Nifong said authorities are still trying to identify a third assailant.

"It had been my hope to charge all three of the assailants at the same time, but the evidence available to me at this moment does not permit that," Nifong said. "Investigation into the identity of the third assailant will continue in the hope that he can also be identified with certainty."

Suspect Involved In Prior Alleged Assault

Well before the rape investigation began, the nationally ranked lacrosse team had a reputation for a swaggering sense of entitlement and boorish frat-boy behavior that included public intoxication and public urination. After the case broke, the university announced an investigation into whether it put up with such behavior for too long.

Neither Seligmann and Finnerty was among the Duke team members arrested in recent years for such offenses as underage drinking and public urination.

Finnerty's legal troubles, however, actually began six months ago when he was arrested in Washington, D.C., after he and two high school lacrosse teammates were involved in a confrontation with a Georgetown man, according to records at D.C. Superior Court.

The alleged victim, identified as Jeffrey O. Bloxgom, said Finnerty and the other men "punched him in the face and body" after he told them to "stop calling him gay and other derogatory names," according to the complaint. He added "that when he tried to walk away, the subjects without provocation attacked him, busting his lip and bruising his chin."

The three men were arrested after Bloxgom flagged down police. Paramedics treated him at the scene.

Finnerty entered a diversion program, under which the charges would be dismissed after the completion of 25 hours of community service. Federal prosecutors, however, could revoke that deal.

"We're considering revocation of the diversion," said Channing Phillips, a spokesman for D.C.'s U.S. Attorney's Office.

The simple assault charge carries a potential penalty of 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Hearings in the case are scheduled for April 25 and Sept. 25, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Alleged Victim Relieved, Mother Says

Now that two suspects have been arrested, the woman at the center of the case is relieved, her mother said Tuesday, and she feels that with the arrest, maybe now, people will believe that a rape actually occurred.

The accuser's own history, as well as her behavior on the night in question, has been the subject of scrutiny among some, including defense attorneys.

According to a 2002 police report, she gave a taxi driver a lap dance at a Durham strip club, then stole his car and led deputies on a high-speed chase. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of larceny, speeding to elude arrest, assault on a government official and driving while impaired.

"I would be glad to go to bat for her," her attorney in that case, Woody Vann, has said . "She was a very credible, believable person and deserves that sort of respect in this situation now."

In an interview with CNN Tuesday, the alleged victim's cousin, who identified herself only as Jackie, said she doesn't feel the whole story has been told.

"I think one of the reasons I have spoke out is because I think it's very one-sided," she said. "For a long time, they were just saying a stripper or an escort and they weren't saying a human, a mother a student, and that's what she is.

"She was a student trying to make a living to support her two children who was victimized like so many other women are," she said

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