Local News

Duke Confirms Durham Police Searched Two Dorm Rooms

Posted April 19, 2006

— Editor's Note: A previous version of this article mistakenly cited defense attorney Bill Cotter as the source of information concerning how a woman may have identified the two men in this story. Cotter, however, was not the source of the information obtained by WRAL.

A Duke University spokesman confirmed Wednesday that Durham police detectives searched two dorm rooms on campus in connection with their investigation into an exotic dancer's allegations that three lacrosse players raped her.

John Burness, senior vice-president for public affairs and government relations, confirmed with WRAL that officers had searched two rooms at Edens 2C Residence Hall, the dorm where several members of the lacrosse team reside.

Defense attorneys close to the case tell WRAL that they believe the rooms searched were those of sophomores Reade Seligmann, 20, and Collin Finnerty, 19, both who were arrested Tuesday on charges of first-degree forcible rape, first-degree sexual offense and first-degree kidnapping.

Sources told WRAL that the officers were looking for Finnerty's computer and that they seized several undisclosed items from his room. Although his attorney, Bill Cotter, would not comment about the evidence, he did say he was surprised that police searched the room after his clients' arrest and not before.

"Normally, search warrants are the basis for the charges," Cotter said.

A few weeks ago, authorities also searched lacrosse player Ryan McFadyen's dorm room, which is adjacent to Finnerty's, after they received information about an e-mail message that talked about plans to kill a stripper. McFadyen has not been charged in the case, but attorneys have said he was suspended.

The searches are the latest development in the investigation into claims by the dancer, a 27-year-old student at North Carolina Central University, that she was gang-raped, sodomized and beaten for 30 minutes at a lacrosse-team party on March 14.

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong said in a statement Tuesday that he is also attempting to identify a third assailant connected to the investigation. Attorneys for all 46 players say their clients are innocent and that the results of additional DNA tests will be more proof that the men did nothing wrong.

Last week, DNA taken from the lacrosse players failed to match DNA evidence taken from the alleged victim. Nifong ordered additional tests on the samples, which could be back this week.

Other attorneys close to the case have said it is impossible that any of the players, including Seligmann and Finnerty, attacked the accuser.

"Neither one of these two young men ever came into any contact with this woman at all," said Joe Cheshire. "It's not physically possible that they were even around at the time that this woman says this crime took place."

Attorneys also have said they have solid evidence that the two men were not at the party at the time of the alleged rape and that ATM and sales receipts, cell phone calls and a taxi driver's statement support their clients' claims of innocence.

Cotter said Wednesday he hopes to learn more about the district attorney's case in the next few weeks and believes there is a good chance that Nifong will hand over evidence to him by the next court date on May 15.

"We're going to get all the evidence we have, and it's a lot, and we're going to accumulate more, not share it and be ready to try the case," he said.

One piece of information attorneys are waiting for is how the accuser identified Finnerty and Seligmann. Defense attorneys close to the case believe she might have done so using a photo line-up, and are waiting on a report from the district attorney about that identification and the procedures followed.

Part of the photo line-up process, experts say, includes fillers -- pictures of people unrelated to the case who look like the suspect.

"They, the police, only showed the woman just pictures of the lacrosse players," said defense attorney Joe Cheshire. "It's so constitutionally suspect it's extraordinary."

Durham police would not comment on the line-up because it is part of the ongoing investigation, but legal experts with the North Carolina Commission on Actual Innocence say if line-ups are biased, a judge will likely throw them out in court.

"The Supreme Court has said if a lineup is unduly suggestive it must be excluded from evidence," said Chris Mumma, executive director of the commission, which sets state standards for line-ups.

"If someone said, 'The person who attacked me was on a football team,' and they only showed me pictures of people on the football team, I'm likely to pick someone on the football team," he said.

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