Sources: Two Duke Lacrosse Players Indicted
Posted April 17, 2006 11:46 a.m. EDT
DURHAM, N.C. — A grand jury issued sealed indictments Monday against two members of the Duke University lacrosse team in connection with allegations that a stripper was raped last month at a team party, a courthouse source told WRAL.
Because the grand jury meets in a closed session not open to the public, it is not known which members of the team were indicted. Defense attorneys said Monday afternoon that they also did not know who had been charged or what charges their clients may face. That information will not be made public until arrests are made in the case. When arrests will be made is unclear.
"Today, two young men have been charged with crimes they did not commit," attorney Robert Ekstrand said in a statement. "This is a tragedy. For the two young men, an ordeal lies ahead. ... They are both innocent."
Typically, the grand jury, comprised of 18 anonymous citizens, is presented evidence by the lead investigator and only hears the prosecution's side of the case. In this situation, jurors likely heard the alleged victim's statement, saw the hospital report and perhaps viewed pictures of possible injuries. Exactly what was presented, however, is not known.
District Attorney Mike Nifong declined to comment on Monday about the investigation to news media camped outside the Durham County Courthouse, but sources tell WRAL that he did ask for the indictments to be sealed. The reasoning for doing so, however, was not known.
Dan Boyce, a former prosecutor who now privately practices law, told WRAL that there could be several reasons for sealing an indictment, including a fear that a defendant will flee before police have a chance to make an arrest and possibly because investigators are gathering additional information for more arrests.
"Often times, (it's frustrating for a criminal defense lawyer), because at this stage, it's a very one-sided process," Boyce said. "You don't know everything that's going on. You don't get to participate in the grand jury process, so, a lot of times, you're in the dark."
Nifong has been silent on a number of unanswered questions regarding the case, but has repeatedly cited a medical exam of the alleged victim as the basis for his belief that a rape occurred. But defense attorneys representing the players insist that not only was there no rape, there was no sex.
They cite DNA test results that failed to find any link between the alleged victim and the 46 white team members who were tested. The team's only black member was not tested because the alleged victim, who is black, told police her attackers were white.
But Nifong, who placed DNA at the center of the case when he promised early on that the tests would identify "precisely who was involved," responded by arguing that 75 percent to 80 percent of rape prosecutions occur without DNA evidence.
Experts say there could be several reasons why tests did not find any DNA evidence -- the alleged attackers may have worn condoms and that in most sexual assaults, the perpetrator does not transfer his own pubic hairs to that of the victim.
Last week, Nifong had the 46 DNA samples sent to another laboratory for additional testing, but the results of those tests, if available, have not been made public.
The lacrosse players told Durham police, according to court records, they were the only ones at the party. Early in the investigation, Nifong hammered the team for standing together -- which led to most of the team being ordered to submit DNA samples -- and refusing to talk with investigators, warning he may bring aiding-and-abetting charges against some.
Monday's indictments against two players come a month after the 27-year-old woman, a student at North Carolina Central University and single mother, told authorities she was raped, sodomized, beaten and strangled by the men.
The racially charged allegations led to near daily protests and rallies. Duke University President Richard Brodhead canceled the highly ranked team's season and accepted the resignation of coach Mike Pressler after the release of a vulgar and graphic e-mail that was allegedly sent by a team member shortly after the alleged assault.
In a written statement released Monday afternoon, John Burness, Duke vice president for public affairs and government relations, said that university officials were aware of the grand jury's deliberations, but that they remained unclear about the precise status of the case.
"We must simply wait for news of todays proceedings. Until we have greater clarity, it would be inappropriate to comment further," Burness said.
The alleged victim was joined at the party by a second exotic dancer, but defense attorney Bill Thomas said she "has stated point blank she does not believe this allegation." The woman, who authorities said in court documents was "separated" from the alleged victim before the rape occurred, told WNCN-TV in Raleigh that the other dancer was "definitely under some sort of substance" when she left the party.
"She was, um, definitely a totally different woman than she was when I first met her," she told the station.
In a segment of an MSNBC interview played Monday morning on the "Today" show, the woman said she believed her friend's allegations.
"I can't imagine that a woman would do that to herself if she didn't feel like it was worth doing it," said the woman, who was not identified. "And the only reason it would be worth doing it is if she was raped. So, I have no reason to believe she was lying."