Local News

DA Plans To Proceed With Case Despite No DNA Matches

Posted April 10, 2006
Updated December 9, 2006

— Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong said he plans to move forward with his case against three members of Duke University's men's lacrosse team despite DNA results that do not match evidence collected from a woman who says the athletes raped her.

"I intend on doing exactly what I've been doing the whole time," Nifong told a CBS News reporter Monday night who asked if he intended to move forward with the case. "If that's what you define as moving forward, then yes."

The State Bureau of Investigation delivered the long-awaited DNA results to Nifong Monday afternoon. Less than two hours later, Raleigh defense attorney Wade Smith, after reviewing the results, said he hoped Nifong would consider dropping the case.

"No DNA material from any young man tested was present on the body of this complaining woman, not present within her body, not present on the surface of her body and not present on any of her belongings," Smith said in a prepared statement.

The alleged victim told Durham police that on the night of March 13, she was gang-raped, beaten and sodomized for 30 minutes.

No one has been charged yet in connection with the rape allegations, but Nifong has said previously that charges could come this week, despite what DNA test results reveal.

"(Nifong) asked for these tests, saying he believed they would assist in clearing the innocent," Smith said. "We hope with this long-awaited test and these results, that Mr. Nifong will announce that he is not going to pursue this case further. There was no sexual assault in this case."

Answering questions from reporters, defense attorney Joe Cheshire did say that DNA of two of the men was found on a towel and on the floor of the bathroom, but that it was not in any way related to the DNA found on the alleged victim.

"The bathroom where this DNA was found happened to be the bathroom of the two boys," Cheshire said. "And any expert and any person in the world will tell you that your DNA is in your bathroom."

Cheshire also said that the allegations of rape had been made "for some reason" against the men and echoed Smith's remarks earlier that he hoped healing in the community would now begin.

"None of us standing up here are saying that there aren't proper social and moral issues that have come out of this discussion that aren't appropriate for discussion," Cheshire said. "There are. But unfortunately, people have meshed those things with this sexual assault and tried to make them all the same."

Tough questions, he said, need to be asked, adding that the question of sexual assault was not one of them.

Case Far From Over

Nifong, however, has said he could look at other evidence collected in the police investigation, including the alleged victim's statement to police, as well as an emergency-room nurse's findings that the woman had injuries, signs and symptoms consistent with rape.

Karl Knudsen, a Raleigh defense attorney not involved in the case, told WRAL Monday that while a lack of DNA matches was strong evidence against an assault, it was still not conclusive.

"Theoretically, you could have an assault without the transfer of DNA," Knudsen said.

Knudsen said it might ultimately be up to a grand jury to decide if the district attorney can proceed with the case. Legally, he said, a person could be tried and convicted based upon the uncorroborated testimony of a crime victim.

"Most of the time, juries like to have some pretty strong corroborative evidence and they may have a hard time finding any in this case," he said.

Nifong, who said last month he will prosecute the case himself, has received criticism from all sides of the case: from members of the community who have said he has waited too long to file charges, to defense attorneys, who have suggested that his vocal and visible stance has had more to do with this May's election than justice.

Appointed district attorney in April 2005, Nifong will face his first election in May.

"There are certainly people who've told me that the timing of this could not be better for the election," Nifong said last month. "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."

Two attorneys close to the investigation have told WRAL that the DNA samples have been sent to another laboratory for testing, but they were not able to say why -- whether it was for quality-control purposes or because Nifong was not satisfied with the results.

Reactions To DNA Results Mixed

Shortly after defense attorneys announced the DNA results, the accuser's father told WRAL that the results did not change his opinion of what his daughter says happened to her.

"I think my daughter told me the truth about what happened, and I support her," he said, adding that he still believes there is enough evidence to make arrests in the case.

"I got a lot of trust in the DA, and I feel like he's going to do the right thing," he said.

Parents of the lacrosse players say those tests prove their sons are innocent.

"There was no question in his mind that nothing had happened, and he certainly was not involved and had nothing to hide," said Mark Koesterer, the father of one of the Duke lacrosse players.

Community reaction to the test results is mixed. On the Duke campus, many people said the case has been overplayed in the news media and that they were happy with the results.

"Nobody likes having allegations that are out there where you don't know the facts," said Duke alumnus Harold Hawkins. "Now that there's some concrete proof, it makes people feel a little more certain about the situation."

At North Carolina Central University, where the alleged victim is enrolled, some students said they still believe a sexual assault occurred.

"I think from what I'm getting, the rape did occur, but we just got the wrong person," said Student Vice President Agu Onuma. "That doesn't mean a crime wasn't committed. I feel like the crime against the young lady did occur. I would like for the DA's office to search for that person."

Students at N.C. Central also expressed concern that the case would have been handled differently if the accused attackers were black and the alleged victim was white.

Race has become a prevalent issue in the investigation to both community members and Duke University. Black community groups have led vigils and demonstrations to demonstrate support for the alleged victim. Groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have also publicly urged a quick and thorough investigation into the matter.

But some people who stood up at vigils last month and publicly condemned the team said Monday they are now relieved by the results.

"I am relieved, I'm greatly relieved," said Jo Darby, a Trinity Park resident who lives behind the house where the March 13 party took place.

Darby was also one of the first people to protest the lacrosse team's silence, which ultimately led to court orders to take the DNA samples.

She said that if the lacrosse players had done the right thing from the beginning they would not be in the situation they are in now. She called the members who live in the Trinity Park neighborhood rowdy and rude neighbors who put themselves in a bad situation.

"They brought it on themselves," Darby said. "They behaved so badly that it was really easy to believe, and I'm really sorry for that."

Unruly behavior has been a common stress for the Durham community and Duke University in the past.

Duke University spokesman John Burness released the following statement Monday afternoon:

"As both President (Richard) Brodhead and I have said repeatedly over the past few weeks, we have to have confidence that the police investigation will ultimately reveal the truth. While the allegations in this case are extremely serious, it is important to remember that no one has been charged and that in our system of law people are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

The university has been criticized by the community for its seemingly slow response to the rape allegations. In the past two weeks, however, Brodhead has suspended both the lacrosse team's season and all associated activities.

Lacrosse athlete Ryan McFadyen was also suspended after Durham police released a search warrant last week that includes an e-mail, believed to be from McFadyen, that talks about plans for another party and killing and skinning dancers.

On the same day that the e-mail surfaced, Duke men's lacrosse coach Mike Pressler resigned his post. Brodhead also formed committees to probe the culture of the lacrosse team and the issue of race relations at Duke.

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