Local News

Duke Lacrosse Player Labeled 'Instigator' In D.C. Assault Trial

Posted July 10, 2006 8:27 a.m. EDT

— One of the three Duke University lacrosse players charged with raping an exotic dancer in March was also the instigator of an unrelated assault on two bar patrons in Georgetown last year, according to trial testimony Monday.

Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y., went on trial in District of Columbia Superior Court for a misdemeanor assault charge from a Nov. 5 fight that left the two alleged victims with minor injuries.

One of the alleged victims, Jeffrey Bloxsom, testified that Finnerty was an instigator who hurled a variety of vulgar, homophobic comments at Bloxsom as they walked up the Georgetown neighborhood's main drag.

"He was the one who wanted to fight the most," Bloxsom said of Finnerty. "He would say to me, 'Say you're a (blank). Say you're a (blank). ... I acquiesced."

Bloxsom said he was not struck by Finnerty but by one of his associates. The second alleged victim, Scott Herndon, said Finnerty punched him after he restrained Finnerty from punching Bloxsom.

Both Bloxsom and Herndon said the attack was unprovoked. Bloxsom said the confrontation began outside a bar, Third Edition, when one of Finnerty's friends stared him down and said, "What are you looking at?"

Herndon admitted on cross-examination that he was "buzzed" but not drunk during the altercation.

Defense lawyers presented a wholly different picture of the incident, saying that Herndon threw the first punch, to the back of Finnerty's head.

A former Duke lacrosse captain, William Gerrish, who was with Finnerty that night, testified that he saw someone else strike Finnerty.

But Gerrish admitted on cross-examination that he told an investigator the opposite _ that he never saw Finnerty get struck.

Gerrish said the fight stemmed from an altercation inside the bar and that both sides were talking back and forth. But he also acknowledged telling the investigator that Finnerty was "fired up" and wouldn't let the confrontation end.

Asked about the discrepancies by prosecutor George Verghese, Gerrish said some of his memories were fuzzy.

There was no testimony from any disinterested parties who witnessed the fight. The police officer who arrested Finnerty, Vincent Wright, arrived after the fight and chased down Finnerty and two others who were running away. Wright said Bloxsom also told him that Finnerty was the instigator.

Defense lawyer Steven McCool questioned why Wright never put that fact in any of his reports. Wright responded that police reports do not include all the information he collects at a crime scene.

The trial is expected to conclude Tuesday. It is unknown whether Finnerty will testify. He faces up to six months in jail if convicted.

Prosecutors had initially agreed to drop the assault charges against Finnerty in exchange for community service and a clean record during a probationary period. But they decided to proceed to trial after Finnerty was arrested in the Duke lacrosse rape case.

Earlier this year, Finnerty, along with Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J., and David Evans, 23, of Bethesda, Md., was indicted on charges of first-degree rape, assault and kidnapping after a woman told Durham police she was gang-raped and beaten at a lacrosse party on March 13. All three are out of jail under a $100,000 bond.

Their attorneys, who have strongly proclaimed their clients' innocence, are scheduled to appear on behalf of the three men on July 17. The hearing will be the "second setting" for all three suspects, which is the deadline for filing pretrial motions not dealing with the suppression of evidence.

A trial is not expected to begin before spring 2007.