Local News

J. Kirk Osborn, Attorney in Duke Lacrosse Case, Dies

Posted March 25, 2007
Updated March 26, 2007

— J. Kirk Osborn, the attorney representing one of the three Duke University lacrosse players accused of rape last year, died Sunday following a heart attack.

Family members said Osborn, 64, passed away early Sunday morning. He had been admitted Friday to UNC Hospitals.

Osborn represented Reade Seligmann, one of the three players indicted on charges of rape, sexual assault and kidnapping following an incident at a team off-campus party in March 2006. The rape charges against Seligmann and Collin Finnerty and against David Evans, who graduated from Duke last spring, were dropped in December after Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong said the woman who accused the players had wavered in certain details of her account.

Nifong has been accused before the North Carolina State Bar of misbehavior in the case and turned it over to the state attorney general's office, which is now handling prosecution.

There was no immediate indication of how Osborn's death would affect the case, and neither the attorney general's office nor other defense attorneys were immediately available. No trial dates have been set.

Colin Finnerty's attorney, Wade Smith, issued a statement on Osborne's death, saying: "We are hoping the case is over soon and the loss of Kirk will not affect the case."

 Lawyers who knew Osborn called him “the real deal”  and characterized him as a warrior in the courtroom.

"Not only was Kirk Osborn a very good friend, he was also a zealous attorney and a stellar representative for his clients and showed great professionalism in the courtroom," said Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall.

Osborn was aggressive in attacking the prosecution's case against Seligmann. The month after the incident, he filed a motion that said, "This request is based on the fact that the complaining witness has a history of criminal activity and behavior, which includes alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and dishonesty, all conduct which indicate mental, emotional and/or physical problems, which affect her credibility as a witness."

Osborn also said last year that information recorded by an ATM machine and other evidence proved Seligmann could not have been involved.

Osborn had represented defendants in several other widely publicized Triangle criminal cases.

Osborn received his law degree from the University of North Carolina Law School in 1974 and was admitted to the North Carolina Bar the same year. He had received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Colorado in 1965 and 1967, respectively. He played football at Colorado. He was born in Havre, Mont., according to biography on the Web site lawyers.com.

He represented Kathryn Dawn Wilson, one of the defendants in the Little Rascals day-care center case in Edenton, when she appealed her conviction. Osborn arranged a plea deal that Wilson refused, and the state later dismissed charges against her.

Osborn also helped represent Wendell Williamson, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shootings of two people in downtown Chapel Hill in 1995.

In 1986, Osborn represented George Burke, who was charged with murder for a shooting outside a Chapel Hill bar. Osborn used Burke's history of mental disorders for what Osborn's Web site said "was reputedly the first successful not guilty by reason of insanity defense in North Carolina in more than 80 years."

Another highly publicized case in which Osborn was involved was the 2000 killing of Air Force Capt. Marty Theer in Fayetteville. Osborn represented Michelle Theer, who was accused of conspiring with a lover to murder her husband. She is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder.

Osborn was a board member of the Fair Trial Initiative, a Durham-based non-profit that challenges death sentences for dependents.


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  • Tired of thoughtlessness Mar 27, 2007

    I was waiting to see where Nifongs name would pop in, and you didnt dissappoint.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the family.

  • Screen name Mar 26, 2007

    So? What does he want, a medal?

  • Trooper Mar 26, 2007

    Nc609 do you really think the NC bar is going to really do anything to one of there own.If a policeman is caught for DUI he's fired and is out od work, If a lawyer is caught he may or may not be tried, it depends on who his lawyer is and how well he knows the judge, then if hes convicted or not he goes of and raise his fees to get back the fees he paid his lawyer and continues his practice or if he's a doctor they give him a reprimand and he continues with his practice but if he's an emt he's fired

  • Trooper Mar 26, 2007

    Well the Veterans Affairs Dept said the Veterans can get help from attorneys for their claims. It seems that 140 years ago lawyers were self taught and unscrupulous, well I've got news for you, they're not self taught anymore but they are all still unscrupulous

  • WXYZ Mar 26, 2007

    Dear "has had enough",

    The evidence is in the news, which hopefully, you read everyday like me. There have been and will continue to be government workers (elected, hired and appointed) who misuse and abuse their authority and responsibility. We should always hold them to as high a standard as they hold us. You can trust some of the people some of the time, but you should never trust all of the people all of the time.

  • 2little2late Mar 26, 2007

    Quick..somebody find out where Nifunk and the Durham police department was when he died

  • has had enough Mar 26, 2007

    ..."defender of the innocent and falsly accused" - do you think that maybe just a few of clients really were guilty?...just a few??...

    ..."more attorneys will join the battle against rampant cronyism, zealotry, dishonesty, unfairness and unethical behavior within law enforcement, prosecutors, DA's and judges throughout North Carolina" - wow, I guess cops shouldn't send anyone to trial huh? They just make up charges on people??

    He was a good man and worked hard on many peoples behalf. Don't bash the cops about it...

  • WXYZ Mar 26, 2007

    We all grieve the death of a true defender of the innocent and falsly accused. We hope and pray that more attorneys will join the battle against rampant cronyism, zealotry, dishonesty, unfairness and unethical behavior within law enforcement, prosecutors, DA's and judges throughout North Carolina. The NC State Bar also deserves our thanks and respect for the way it has fought to uphold ethics in the legal profession and in particular lawyers who are elected or employed by the State of NC.

  • diwanicki Mar 26, 2007

    My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

  • dogsrule12cheek Mar 26, 2007

    God Bless!!!! my thought and prayers go out to his family and