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Duke accuser still claims sexual assault

Posted October 23, 2008 10:24 a.m. EDT
Updated October 24, 2008 1:08 p.m. EDT

— More than two years after she accused three Duke University lacrosse players of raping her, the woman at the center of the Duke lacrosse case says she still believes she was attacked.

"Ýes, I am still claiming that a sexual assault happened," Crystal Gail Mangum told reporters Thursday when she appeared at the Know Book Store to promote her new book, "The Last Dance for Grace: The Crystal Mangum Story." (Read an excerpt.)

"Many people have tried to use my name and my past to intimidate me, to make me believe that I was a nobody," she said. "The Duke lacrosse case will never define who I am."

Mangum declined to comment, however, when asked if she thought David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were innocent. She also said the extent of her involvement with then-District Attorney Mike Nifong is "not really relevant right now."

Vincent Clark, co-author and publisher of the book, said repeatedly that "the case is closed" and Mangum accepts the conclusions of state prosecutors.

"At this point, it doesn't really matter," she said. "What matters is for people to know my account of what happened and for all of us to learn from it."

Mangum's claim that she was attacked drew criticism from attorneys who represented the former players, and Seligmann's family said they were considering a lawsuit.

"It's a bald-faced lie," said Joseph Cheshire, who represented Evans. "And there's nothing other than the 20 or 25 different stories she's told about it to corroborate it – absolutely nothing, and that's why the attorney general declared these young men innocent."

In a statement, Seligmann's father called Mangum's comments "simply a pathetic attempt to further her need to remain in the public eye at the expense of demonstrably innocent individuals."

"We are presently evaluating all available legal options," Phil Seligmann said. "If Ms. Mangum and those associated with her continue to slander Reade, we will have no choice and will not hesitate to utilize these options."

The three former players filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year against Nifong, the city of Durham and others, but they have never named Mangum as a defendant in any legal action because they felt sorry for her and thought, to some degree, she had been victimized by the judicial process.

Jim Cooney, who represented Seligmann in the criminal case, said attorneys would review the contents of the book.

"For 2½ years, this woman has attempted to destroy Reade's life," Cooney said. "We aim to put a stop to it."

The 200-page book, published by fire! Films and Books, goes on sale Friday at www.danceforgrace.com and should eventually be available in bookstores and online retailers, Michael Denisoff, a consultant on the project, said.

Clark says the memoir is not a rehash of the scandal that rocked the city of Durham and launched a national debate about race and privilege, but about Mangum's life.

"It's not only about the Duke lacrosse case," Mangum said. "It's not only about my hardships, but it's also about the good times I've had in my life."

"It's important for me to let people know who I am, not only because of the rumors and the awful things that were said about me but because everyone can learn from my situation," she continued.

In a preview of the book released to the media on Wednesday, Mangum writes in explicit detail about being repeatedly beaten and gang raped at age 14 by a much older boyfriend and his friends.

Mangum continues that she eventually went to a psychiatric hospital to help her cope with post-traumatic stress from the abuse, but left after two months to return to her boyfriend. Eventually, she left him.

"This is very difficult for me, but it is something I have to do. God has given me the grace and courage to stand up," Mangum said Thursday. "No one deserves to be sexually assaulted regardless of their profession or regardless of what they have done."

Mangum was a student at North Carolina Central University in March 2006 and also worked as an exotic dancer when she performed at a party hosted by several Duke lacrosse players.

It was at that party, Mangum alleged, that three white members of the team trapped her inside a bathroom and raped and sexually assaulted her. Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann were later indicted on rape and other charges on the basis of her allegations.

Nifong dismissed rape charges against the men in December 2006 after Mangum said she was not certain she was raped. In April 2007, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed the remaining charges and declared the former players innocent.

"She's basically saying two things about that evening," Cheshire said. "No. 1: 'Something happened, and I was assaulted;' and No. 2: 'I've always told the same story.' And both of those are such palpable, obvious lies that it really borders on the pathetic."

The three former defendants have since moved on with their lives. Evans is working in New York; Finnerty and Seligmann transferred from Duke and are playing lacrosse at Loyola College and Brown University, respectively.

"I think they've moved past this," Cheshire said. "Little things like this (book) upset them. They are the victims in this case. But they're fine."

Mangum, meanwhile, graduated with honors from NCCU last spring and says she hopes to get a doctorate from the University of Georgia and eventually open a home for young women.