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As Lacrosse Case Unfolded, Duke 'Cowered,' Group Says

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Duke Lacrosse Case
DURHAM, N.C. — Supporters of Duke University are unhappy with how the school is handling an investigation into allegations that three lacrosse members raped a woman at a team party in March.

In an open letter published in Wednesday's The Chronicle, Duke's student newspaper, Friends of Duke University said school leaders "cowered in the face of media pressure" and that the university has "remained hesitant in its support" of the three athletes and the lacrosse team, and in the process, has "sacrificed its own students and values."

The group, made up of alumni, parents and supporters of Duke who said they are deeply concerned about the university's response to the lacrosse case, asked President Richard Brodhead and the Board of Trustees in the letter to consider several recommendations, which include speaking up for Duke students, being fair to the men's lacrosse team and encouraging others to do so as well.

The elite university has received national publicity and criticism for what some call a slow response to the rape allegations, which surfaced in late March, and since three lacrosse athletes, Reade Sleigmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J.; Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y.; and David Evans, 23, of Bethesda, Md.; were indicted on charges of first-degree charges of rape, kidnapping and assault.

"We are in no way apologists for the acknowledged inappropriate conduct of the lacrosse team," the group said in a news release on Wednesday. "We want reform, and we believe that everyone in the Duke community, including the team members themselves, do at this point as well."

In the letter, Friends of Duke said the administration's "passive response" to District Attorney Mike Nifong's behavior concerning the case "will lead future students to think twice before attending Duke."

It acknowledges the university's obligation not to comment on pending legal matters, but the group said it wants to urge the university to use all its influence to ensure the three men accused "receive justice through a fair process."

The group also said the "university's treatment of the (men's lacrosse) team has been reactive rather than proactive," and that "necessary reforms must recognize that many of the team's problems exist within the larger Duke community."

A spokesman for Duke University had no comment Wednesday afternoon.

Brodhead and the university have undertaken a number of actions involving both the team and the broader issues raised by the case. In April, Brodhead suspended the men's lacrosse season and accepted the resignation of the team's coach. He also appointed several committees to examine the culture of the lacrosse team and to look at how the university responded to the allegations.

Committee findings have since then recommended that the lacrosse team be reinstated under stricter standards and found that the university's slow response to the allegations were a result of questions about the accuser's story. The committee praised Brodhead's actions once he had better information.

Attorneys for the Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans all maintain their clients' innocence and have said no rape occurred on the night of the alleged crime. Nifong, however, contends some sort of sexual assault did occur and has said the case could go to trial as early as spring.

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