Local News

DA: Alleged Duke Party Attack Took 5-10 Minutes

Posted September 22, 2006 10:02 a.m. EDT
Updated January 7, 2007 11:33 a.m. EST

— Three Duke University lacrosse players took five to 10 minutes to sexually assault a woman hired to perform as a stripper at a team party, and not the 30 minutes she originally described to investigators, a prosecutor said Friday.

"When something happens to you that is really awful, it can seem like it takes place longer than it actually takes," District Attorney Mike Nifong said.

Nifong's comments came as Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III denied a defense request that prosecutors provide a detailed accounting of the alleged assault, including the exact time, place and type of sexual act the accuser said each defendant committed.

A 27-year-old North Carolina Central University student told police she was beaten and raped by three lacrosse players at a March 13 off-campus team party, where she was performing as a stripper.

Juniors Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann and 2006 graduate Dave Evans have been charged with rape and kidnapping in the case.

Kirk Osborn, who represents Seligmann, said the defense needed the so-called "bill of particulars" because the accuser has told several different versions of the alleged assault, and his client has a right to know which version prosecutors will present at trial. In search and arrest warrants issued early in the investigation, police stated the accuser told investigators she was assaulted for 30 minutes.

Nifong said he is not required to state the exact time of the alleged attack, but offered that authorities believe it took place between 11:30 p.m. on March 13, when the accuser arrived at the party, and 12:55 a.m. on March 14, when police arrived and found no one at the house.

"Out of his client's whole life, we have given him an hour and a half that he has to account for," Nifong said.

The timing is crucial to Osborn, who again pledged Friday to present an alibi defense for Seligmann. He said the then-sophomore made eight calls on his cell phone between 12:05 a.m. and 12:14 a.m., when he called a cab company for a ride. The cab took Seligmann to an ATM, a fast-food restaurant, and finally back to his dorm at 12:46 a.m.

"When is the exact time this occurred, because we have accounted for our time," Osborn said.

Defense attorneys representing the three players also complained that prosecutors are dragging their feet in the case.

Defense attorneys asked Smith to compel Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong to respond more quickly to their requests for evidence. Nifong doesn't return phone calls or respond to written motions, the attorneys said.

"I think we could've made this process much more simple if Mr. Nifong was just willing to sit down and talk with us," defense attorney Joseph Cheshire said.

"I apologize if I'm not doing things the way they want things to be done," Nifong shot back. "This isn't the only (criminal) case in Durham."

None of the players attended Friday's hearing, but Finnerty's father was taking notes in the gallery.

Nifong also turned more material over to defense attorneys Friday, including e-mails sent by Durham police officers investigating the case, reports summarizing information retrieved from lacrosse players' computers, investigator notes and a CD with e-mail activity among seven people at Duke.

Nifong said the evidence provided Friday included much of what was requested by defense lawyers, who had asked for handwritten notes from police officers involved with the case, reports outlining procedures used at the labs who tested the DNA of the players and notes from a mental health facility where police took the accuser after the party.

Nifong responded by telling Smith he is now personally handling discovery issues in his office.

"We're providing in good faith what we can in these circumstances," Nifong said. "Despite the feelings of some people, this is not the only case in Durham."

Nifong registered his own complaints during the hearing, including a criticism of a telephone survey by the defense that he said might prejudice potential jurors.

Cheshire said the survey was professional and is necessary in such a high-profile case.

"You do polling to see what people's attitudes are on various issues -- on racial issues because race has been brought up by people, about class issues, athletic integrity," said Cheshire, who like other defense attorneys sported a blue wristband that said "Duke Lacrosse 2006" on one side and "Innocent!" and the three players' numbers onthe other.

Defense attorney Wade Smith said he and his counterparts might conduct more polls, as well as focus groups and mock trials.

The lawyers said they've already discussed the idea of moving the trial outside of Durham, but said it's too early to tell if they would request a change of venue.