National News

Decision in Duke Lacrosse Case Awaited

Posted April 11, 2007

— Three members of Duke University's lacrosse team could learn Wednesday whether state prosecutors will drop the remaining charges accusing them of sexually assaulting a stripper at a team party more than a year ago.

"I think it's likely that they will do that," said Wade Smith, an attorney for charged player Collin Finnerty. "We certainly hope that would be true. But until we hear it, we're not going to acknowledge that's the truth. We'll wait and see."

The state Attorney General's Office has scheduled a 2:30 p.m. news conference to discuss the case. It is unclear whether Attorney General Roy Cooper will be at the news conference at the RBC Center, which can accommodate the crush of national media interested in the case.

The Associated Press, citing sources close to the investigation, reported Wednesday morning that all charges would be dropped in the case.

The Attorney General's Office took over the case in January after Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was charged with several ethics violations tied to his handling of the sensational case.

No notice of dismissal had been filed at the Durham County Courthouse by early Wednesday. But a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office told WRAL that the investigation into the case has been completed.

The families of Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans arrived in Raleigh Tuesday. Officials told WRAL that the three lacrosse players would be present once a decision had been made as to how the prosecution would proceed with the case.

A grand jury indicted the three players on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense last spring after a woman told police she was assaulted at a March 2006 team party where she was hired to perform as a stripper. All three have steadfastly maintained their innocence, with Evans calling the allegations "fantastic lies."

Nifong dropped the rape charges in December after the accuser changed a key detail in her story. He recused himself a few weeks later after the state bar charged him with violating several rules of professional conduct.

Among the ethics charges, Nifong is accused of withholding potentially exculpatory DNA evidence from the defense and lying to both the court and bar investigators. Nifong faces a June trial before the bar and could be disbarred if convicted.

Nifong faces a Friday hearing in his ethics case, and he was at his attorney's office in Winston-Salem on Wednesday.

Nifong's recusal put the players' fate in the hands of Cooper, who promised "a fresh and thorough review of the facts" when he took over the case in January.

"We are not going to have any expectations until we hear officially," Smith said. "When we get the word, we'll have the word."

Evans' attorney, Joseph Cheshire, declined to comment when asked if his client was planning to be in Raleigh on Wednesday.

While Evans, 24, of Bethesda, Md., graduated the day before he was indicted in May, Duke temporarily suspended sophomores Finnerty and Seligmann in the wake of their arrest. Finnerty, 20, was also convicted in July in an unrelated assault case in Washington, D.C., and sentenced to six months of probation.

Finnerty and Seligmann were both invited to return to campus, but neither has accepted. John Danowski, the former coach at Hofstra who took over the Duke program last summer, has also said that both are welcome to continue their lacrosse careers with the Blue Devils.

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