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Defense Attorneys: Rush to Prove Guilt in Duke Lacrosse Case

Posted July 20, 2007
Updated July 21, 2007

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— Police officers under the direction of former prosecutor Mike Nifong investigated allegations of rape against members of the Duke University lacrosse team in hopes of proving guilt over all else, a defense attorney told a city panel Friday.

"The investigation was directed largely toward proving the truth of her story and the guilt of these young men rather than trying to determine what happened," said Jim Cooney, who represented falsely accused and now-exonerated former player Reade Seligmann.

City officials formed the panel in May to investigate the Durham Police Department's role in the case after the department's internal investigation found no wrongdoing. If the panel finds the department acted unconstitutionally, the city could face lawsuits.

"That's not our purpose, but it could be one result of our efforts," said panel chairman Willis Whichard, a former state Supreme Court justice.

During a two-hour presentation, Cooney outlined the problems that began surfacing shortly after a woman told police she was attacked by three players at a March 2006 team party for which she had been hired to perform as a stripper.

Her accusations led to indictments of Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense. State prosecutors have since declared all three men innocent victims of a "tragic rush to accuse."

Nifong resigned as Durham County district attorney after being disbarred for more than two dozen violations of the state's rules of professional conduct during the case.

When another defense attorney, Joe Cheshire, addressed the panel, he questioned why superior officers in the police department weren't more involved in the investigation.

"There seemed to be no senior police presence in this case," Cheshire said during a half-hour statement. "It was a case that was completely out of control and needed some experienced counseling in that regard, and it wasn't getting it."

After hearing Friday's testimony, panel members said they would like to hear from Durham Police Chief Steve Chalmers.

"I think the chief of police is responsible for seeing that his officers are doing their jobs and (that) they have the backup and the experience they need," panel member Ken Spaulding said.

Whichard said the panel could subpoena Chalmers if he elects not to appear before them.

"I think he will come," Whichard said.

The presentations highlighted issues that defense attorneys had trumpeted for more than a year before the charges were dropped in April:

  • a lack of DNA evidence linking any player to the accuser
  • her conflicting accounts of an attack that state prosecutors later determined never occurred
  • a flawed lineup using photographs from which she identified Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans as her attackers.

Defense attorneys have said Seligmann and Finnerty weren't at the party when the woman said the attack occurred.

"When you start running into contradictions, when you start running into a complete lack of opportunity (to commit a crime), when you start running into stories that are changing seemingly to fill holes, then you've got to take a step back," Cooney said.

Cooney noted that the investigators handling the case were told by their superiors to report to Nifong as of March 24, 2006 – roughly 10 days after the team party.

Defense attorneys had repeatedly said Nifong pursued the case for political gain because he was facing two challengers in a tight Democratic primary for district attorney in May 2006, an assertion a disciplinary hearing committee of the North Carolina State Bar agreed with in ordering Nifong to be disbarred last month.

"Where was the chain of command on this?" Cooney said. "Why is it Mr. Nifong who is telling (the investigator) what to do when his investigation isn't complete yet?"


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  • CauseTaker Jul 22, 2007

    "Baker told them late last year that he wanted a replacement for Chalmers on board by mid-August."

    Given that Chalmers announced his retirement effective the end of this year, Baker could've waited until later in the year to bring Lopez on board. I think it would be unfair to Chalmers for the city to force him out earlier than his planned retirement date, unless #1 there is mutual agreement, or #2 there is cause relating to insubordination (doubtful).

    It's usually desirable in high-profile positions, and I consider Chief-of-Police a high-profile position, for the outgoing person to remain in their position for *up to* three months to assist their replacement. There are a number of administrative details that need to be covered with Lopez. There may also be cases in progress that Chalmers would need to maintain and/or share the administrative duties. I'm confident the two Chiefs will have plenty of work between them.

  • Joy4u2 Jul 22, 2007

    who care's sick of hearing it its over now its her turn to go to jail, for lying. And sue the town of Durhamn and they will and thats it.

  • Nancy Jul 22, 2007

    Cause - check this out:

    Baker said he, Chalmers and the city's Human Resources Department are still trying to decide what the outgoing chief will do once Lopez arrives.

    Chalmers is retiring at the end of the year and naturally enough is concerned about the implications the timing of his departure will have on his pension, Baker said.

    Makes you wonder why they will pay TWO chiefs, seems like they are only concerned about raising his pension benefits by letting the clock run while he twiddles his thumbs.

  • CauseTaker Jul 22, 2007

    ... continued ...

    "The ONE officer who was really on the ball in all this from the beginning was Shelton. ..." - Nancy

    He certainly was, but no one wanted to hear the truth. At least people who used the alleged rape for their own personal agendas. It's absolutely shameful how the DPD tried to discredit him over this one event, in spite of his several years with the PD.

    I sure don't envy the Investigative Committee for their task, but look forward to thier final report and recommendations. They've all had raised eyebrows already and this is still the beginning.

  • CauseTaker Jul 22, 2007

    "Chalmers is doing a major CYA, ..." - Nancy
    "Chalmers was totally not around, ... missing in action would be a good way to describe it." - Nancy
    "He's still trying to maintain a low profile while the committee does it's investigation." - Nancy

    Absolutely, total agreement. Hopefully Chalmers will have to testify at the Investigative Hearing. It will be interesting to see how he 'spins' his lack of oversight regarding Duke Lax. Sgt Gottlieb definitely has some explaining to do... it should be interesting. Chesire laid it out pretty clearly for the panel highlighting the absence of chain of command, failures to investigate leads, and consistent failure to record discussions/meetings. It seems like Inv. Himan was essentially abandoned in his fairly new position by all PD authority including Sgt. Gottlieb. Of course, we don't know what went on within the DPD behind the scenes as far as oversight, but for all intents and purposes it appears like there was none.

    ... continued ...

  • Nancy Jul 21, 2007

    CauseTaker - when you read this, hope you have had a good day at work.

    Chalmers is doing a major CYA, the minute the AG dropped the case as totally unfounded, that it never happened, it got mighty quiet at DPD headquarters from the higher ups.

    Chalmers was totally not around, no comments from him for the bulk of the case, literally out of sight - missing in action would be a good way to describe it.

    He's still trying to maintain a low profile while the committee does it's investigation. I suspect they'll call him before their committee to answer some direct questions, to which he will bring with him a police atty, just like Himan did when he testified before the bar hearing for Nifong.

    The Blue Wall in Durham unfortunately exists with some.

    The ONE officer who was really on the ball in all this from the beginning was Shelton. So much so that they (DA's office with support from some higher ups in DPD) tried to intimidate him by sending over ol' Linwood Wilson to question him!

  • CauseTaker Jul 21, 2007

    Thank you Nancy.

    I'd already read the document exchange between Baker & Chalmers which is how I arrived at the conclusion that the PD report was limited in response to Baker's specifications. Upon further research, I also watched the WRAL video "WEB ONLY: Durham Police Chief Speaks About Duke Lacrosse Case" (link below).

    In the video Chief Chalmers states in the beginning that he requested a third-party review prior to Mayor Bell's request for same, instead of his personal report. He attempts to explain why the details of the PD report was limited, wherein he says the report was more limited than he would have liked it to be, but that Baker requested his report to be 4 to 5 pages in length.

    "WEB ONLY: Durham Police Chief Speaks About Duke Lacrosse Case"

    I'll check back tonight after mid-night... I'm headed to work. Have a great evening everyone.

  • Nancy Jul 21, 2007

    Oh and when reading the attached report by Chalmers, keep in mind when he states that the prosecutor (Nifong) seeks an indictment, in this case, Gottlieb and Himan went before the GJ on evidence THEY had, not anything from the Prosecutor. So the indictments were based on statements of "fact" they presented from their own investigation. Nifong merely signed the papers to make that happen.

    In my book, the police are then obligated to tell the GJ the facts as they know them. If a true bill was issued, it was based on what they told the GJ. And as we know, when they appeared before the GJ they already knew there was no evidence, merely her word against theirs. Unfortunately, we will never know what they told the GJ.

  • Nancy Jul 21, 2007

    CORRECTION: Not Chalmers/Bell, I meant Chalmers/Baker.

    Oh, and you'll note that the link is spaced, you'll have to remove that to have it work. Don't know why WRAL does that when some links are posted.

  • Nancy Jul 21, 2007

    CauseTaker - I can see where they tried to make it appear that they had really done an internal investigation, but it was merely a quickly pulled together whitewash document by Chalmers/Bell to say "Nope, nothing wrong here". Here is a link to the document:


    It was one person's running commentary basically refuting media reports of a poor job done by DPD. Very defensive and short on facts.